Thus far our “Estate Planning Basics” series has focused primarily on financial documents, but the documents pertaining to your health care are a vitally important part of any estate plan.
The most important healthcare document in your estate plan will be your healthcare directive – in Texas it is called a Medical Power of Attorney. Depending on where you live, the documents which name a healthcare agent and detail your wishes for decisions made on your behalf and end of life treatment may also be called a living will, an advance healthcare directive, healthcare power of attorney, directive to physicians and family or surrogates or a personal directive.
Perhaps the most important part of a healthcare directive/medical power of attorney is the nomination of your healthcare agent. This is the person who will be making decisions (potentially life-and-death decisions) about your medical treatment in the event that you are unable. The person you choose should be trustworthy, sensitive to the concerns of your other loved ones, and have the strength to ensure that your wishes are followed—even if those wishes are difficult or unpopular. Like a financial power of attorney, the healthcare directives can be very general or very specific in its instructions.
In Texas, a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, which is commonly referred to as a Living Will, allows you to communicate your wishes now about certain end of life decisions in the future at a time when you are not able to communicate your wishes.
While some people have very specific preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care, others prefer to leave these decisions in the hands of their loved ones, letting those who care about them make the choices that will bring the most comfort. Whether you choose to leave detailed instructions for care or leave the decision-making to others, your healthcare directive should reflect your choice. We all know the tale of Terry Schiavo, whose lack of a living will resulted in a seven year court battle between her husband and her parents over her end of life care... Don’t let the same thing happen to you or your family.