A comprehensive estate plan addresses several issues that come up at the end of life. In addition to distributing assets through a will, an estate plan should include a healthcare proxy.
A healthcare proxy gives a trusted family member or close friend the legal right to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are not able to do so because of illness or mental incapacity. This important estate planning document is called by different names–healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney for healthcare–but its fundamental purpose is the same.
The Health Care Proxy is different than a living will, which is a document which directs your healthcare team in and of life choices and treatment during a terminal illness. If decisions must be made about resuscitation and life support, recording those wishes in a living will assists your agent in making those difficult decisions.
When selecting a person to be your healthcare agent, find someone with whom you’re comfortable discussing health-related issues. Select a person you trust with your life and who will assume this responsibility if and when the time comes. Your agent must be your advocate, execute your wishes and make wise decisions, even when friends and family are telling them otherwise.
Here are some general guidelines for agents that you should avoid. Don’t choose:
Your healthcare provider or the person who owns a health or residential facility in which you’re residing
A person whose job it is to medically evaluate you, such as a physician
A person who works for a government agency that is financially responsible for your care unless she’s a blood relative
The same person as your court-approved guardian or conservator
A person who’s already a healthcare agent for more than 10 people
It’s important to also name a backup agent, in the event that your medical power of attorney can’t make decisions on your behalf. An experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that you have the properly prepared documents in place to protect you and your family. That means a medical power of attorney and a power of attorney for your finances, in addition to a last will and testament to distribute your assets.
The estate planning attorney will also be able to explain the different strategies that are available to minimize tax liability and pass wealth along to the next generation.
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