Estate planning offers New Yorkers far more than the opportunity to establish a living trust or create a funeral fund. While many people mistakenly believe that an estate plan is intended solely to nominate heirs and beneficiaries, your plan could help you, and your loved ones, make critical decisions in the event that you are ever incapacitated.
How an Estate Plan Could Help Protect Your Health, Wealth, and Values
Your estate is comprised of your financial accounts, physical assets, and real property. When people think about estate plans, they often consider how their tangible estate should be divided upon their death. A conventional will, for instance, allows its writer—or testator—to make inheritance-related decisions, designate a guardian for their minor children, or even establish caretaking arrangements for a beloved family pet.
However, a comprehensive estate plan should address contingencies beyond the eventual dissolution of your estate. Your estate plan could help you protect your health, wealth, and values by:
- Detailing your medical preferences. In contrast to a conventional will, a living will allows the testator to outline how they should be treated in the event they are ever physically or mentally incapacitated.
- Delegating powers of attorney to a trusted family member, friend, or lawyer. An incapacitated person cannot make informed decisions about appropriate medical treatments. Instead, they can delegate the medical power of attorney to a designated health care proxy, who can determine which treatments they should—and should not—receive.
The Living Will
A living will is not an arrangement reserved solely for older adults. After all—anyone could be incapacitated by disease, injury, or mental illness.
A living will could help you make decisions about the following:
- If you should be resuscitated following an accident or heart attack.
- How long you should remain on life support if your physicians believe you are unlikely to recover.
- Your willingness to be given certain medications or experimental treatments.
For many people, a living will provides the opportunity to exercise their autonomy in a way that reflects their values, even when they are unable to make decisions for themselves.
The Medical Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person, sometimes called an agent or proxy, the authority to make decisions on your behalf.
The medical power of attorney, or health care proxy, allows your agent to guide intensive medical interventions and end-of-life care. Your health care proxy does not have to be an attorney. However, they should be well-acquainted with your wishes and values and capable of making impartial decisions in your best interest.
Choosing Between a Living Will and the Medical Power of Attorney
A living will and a health care proxy afford forward-thinking estate planners the right to determine how they should be cared for when they are no longer capable of caring for themselves.
Ideally, you should never have to choose between a living will and a health care proxy. A well-structured and carefully considered living will could help provide guidance and clarity to your attorney-in-fact.
Without a living will or the medical power of attorney, your family may struggle to make decisions in accordance with your wishes. In a worst-case scenario, they might have to appear in court, forced to present arguments before a judge who may be more inclined to let a hospital administrator decide what is best for you.
The Importance of Speaking to an Estate Planning Professional
Your living will and powers of attorney should be part of a comprehensive estate plan. While many websites offer deceptively simple templates for common estate planning services, any oversight or omission—no matter how simple—could leave your loved ones in an uncertain, precarious position.