While estate planning is typically focused on what happens to your assets after you pass away, it's just as important to consider what you want to happen while you are still alive. There may come a point where you can’t make your wishes easily known, or where you are unable to make decisions for yourself at all due to a health decline. That’s when advance directives come into play.
Advance Directives to Discuss With Your Estate Planning Attorney
As the name implies, these medical and financial directives are made ahead of time to prepare for the future. They aren’t just there to grant peace of mind for yourself, but also to take a burden off your family so no one is left guessing what you would want. If you end up in a coma, vegetative state, or suffering from severe mental illness, these directives tell your family and physicians how you want to be treated:
- Living will. This document is the baseline for your advance directives and serves as a written record of your specific wishes. Living wills are particularly helpful if you have strong views about not wanting specific types of treatment for personal or religious reasons.
- Health care proxy. Medical issues may come up that aren’t covered by your living will, or you may have a family member such as a spouse who you would prefer to make decisions for you. In these cases, you can name a health care proxy to handle all aspects of your medical care. You should appoint a health care proxy who understands your thought processes and shares your overall values and outlook on medical treatment.
- Power of attorney. The financial counterpart to your health care proxy, granting someone power of attorney allows them to make decisions about bank accounts, managing property, selling real estate, and so on when you become physically or mentally incapacitated. This can be the same person or a completely different individual from your health care proxy.
- Medical orders for life-sustaining treatment. This is a standardized form provided by the New York State Department of Health that is given to your physicians and taken with you if you move between medical facilities. The form clearly explains whether you want to be intubated, be given a feeding tube, or utilize other life-saving measures, and also lists if you have a living will or healthcare proxy to be consulted.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). If signed, this document prohibits medical staff from performing CPR and instead allows natural death to occur if your heart stops beating or your lungs stop breathing. DNRs are typically used in situations where a patient suffers a significant reduction in quality of life or is in constant pain and there is no possibility of recovery.
When drawing up these advance directives, you may also want to take the time to consider other issues like palliative care for maximum relief from symptoms, as well as if you want to provide organ donation after death.
Remember that these advance directives are only effective if people know about them. Don’t forget to discuss medical directives with your family members, or to provide copies to your doctor and keep copies where they can be easily found if you have a medical emergency at home.
If you later have a change of heart, your attorney can help you update or change any of these advance directives. Signing advance directives is also an excellent time to draft a will and begin the process of creating a more comprehensive estate plan to protect your assets for your surviving family.
Plan for the Future With an Experienced New York Attorney
Advance directives aren’t just for the elderly. Anyone can experience a sudden health change, and everyone needs to start the estate planning process at some point. If you’re starting to think about how you want to handle end-of-life issues and get your estate in order, message or call Alatsas Law Firm to set up a consultation.