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Answer Your “What If’s?” With Advance Directives

Planning for the unexpected is a difficult task.  If only we could see into the future to know just what we should be planning for!  We all know that death is a certainty, so it makes sense to have a Last Will and Testament.  It is much harder to envision the uncertainties, the “what if’s?”   What if I become disabled?  What if I am temporarily incapable of managing my affairs or, as I age, need extra help handling my finances?  What if I suddenly become unable to communicate my medical treatment choices?  It is hard to imagine yourself in any of these scenarios, let alone know how to plan for them.  But, there are things you can do to ensure that if these situations arise, your financial affairs and medical care will continue according to your wishes.  You can accomplish this by using documents called “advance directives.”

Advance directives are legal documents that alleviate the problems that arise when you are unable to manage your financial affairs or medical treatment due to incapacity.  There are three documents to consider: a power of attorney, a health care proxy and a living will.

A power of attorney (POA) allows you to name someone you trust to become your “agent” and perform all of your business and personal financial duties and transactions.  You may allow your agent to have broad powers, or you may grant only certain powers while excluding others.  This gives you flexibility, while avoiding delays in your banking or business transactions should you become incapacitated.  It is a practical way to make sure your bills get paid even though you can’t do it on your own.  If you become disabled and do not have a POA, it may become necessary for the court to appoint a guardian on your behalf, with resulting costs and delays.

A health care proxy lets you choose someone as your agent to make health care decisions for you when you cannot do so.  You can include specific language to express limitations on decisions regarding such things as artificial nutrition or life support, or you may grant broad power to your trusted agent, allowing him or her to exercise judgment based on your previously discussed preferences, values and beliefs.   By using a health care proxy, you are enlisting the help of your agent to make sure you receive proper care and treatment.  It is effective any time you are incapable of communicating your intentions, whether it be temporary or an end of life situation.

If you do not have an appropriate person to act as your health care agent, a living will is another way you can plan for the unexpected.  In a living will, you can document specific instructions, and expressly state your choices concerning the types of medical treatment you do or do not want.  Unlike a health care proxy, a living will does not designate an agent to make health care decisions for you.   Instead, it provides evidence of your wishes concerning your health care and medical treatment and helps your doctor determine what treatment you would prefer should you become incapacitated.

While the future is uncertain, you can rest easy if you have prepared for the possibility of your own incapacity.   Having advanced directives in place will give you that peace of mind.

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