“Estate planning is a complex world for most Americans. For many, the process can seem overwhelming and expensive. For others, it is uncomfortable to confront one’s mortality and requires tough decision making. However, regardless of one’s feeling on estate planning, there is one estate planning document that all Americans should have: A Health Care Directive.”
Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and makes instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.
Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.
Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.
A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.
Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.
The agent’s role in the health care directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.
After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.
With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.
Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”