Estate planning is an important decision-making process that many people delay. Even those who have taken the time to create a last will may not have spent adequate time attending to other potential future needs. Creating a comprehensive estate plan beyond just a last will offers you the most protection and peace of mind.
For example, creating a trust can help you structure an inheritance for an heir whom you know doesn't make good financial decisions. You can also create a special needs trust for a child with a severe physical or mental disability. However, we shouldn't just think of other people when you plan for the future.
You need to think of yourself too and the potential for future medical issues. A living will is one of the most important protections you can create for yourself, and it also offers the benefit of protecting your loved ones from making difficult decisions without your input at a time when they need to speak on your behalf.
Your living will guides your family and protects your wishes
A living will typically includes an advance medical directive. This important document allows you to provide guidance and instructions for your medical wishes in the event that you become medically incapacitated. Incapacitation can result from a variety of issues, such as a head injury due to a car crash or a medical event like a stroke or a coma. Doctors also sometimes place people in medically induced comas so their bodies can recover from severe infections and other major medical issues.
Regardless of why you can't speak about your own preferences, you want to have something in writing that helps your family make important decisions for you. An advance medical directive allows you to lay out your exact preferences about everything from whether you would like to have your organs donated if you pass away to your wishes about things like transfusions and resuscitation.
Although it's always a good idea to talk to your family members about your preferences, in a moment of extreme stress, they may not recall the conversation. A medical directive in a living will helps take the pressure off your loved ones by giving them your specific preferences in writing.
Power of attorney documents let people act on your behalf
Knowing your wishes is an important first step, but your family may also need legal empowerment to make those decisions on your behalf. Hospitals typically defer to a spouse in this scenario. If you aren't married, you need to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Naming someone other than your spouse is often a good idea, as it can be very hard for your spouse to process your condition, let alone make authoritative decisions. You can do the same for important financial issues, ranging from paying utilities at your home to managing an account for your business. A financial power of attorney document will give someone the authority to pay bills or access funds for you when you are not able to do so.
The documents in your living will will no longer have any legal power when you die, as your actual last will takes over at that time. Similarly, if the courts rule that you are medically incapacitated, those documents no longer have authority unless you have a durable power of attorney created for that specific scenario. Talking with an attorney who understands the importance of a comprehensive estate plan can help you address issues before you have to deal with them.