A Brief Introduction to End of Life Legal Planning
While being one of the most important aspects of your later stages in life, end of life legal planning is often the hardest to deal with. The issue is a mix of emotions, finance, and law – a combination that will bring anxiety to anyone. Nonetheless, being prepared for the unexpected, and eventually the expected, is exceptionally important. End of life legal planning can be split into two primary categories: healthcare and financial.
Everyone will have an opinion on what is the best medical decision to make should something happen to you. There are three primary healthcare documents that can ensure your intentions are known and carried out.
Advance Health Care Directive – an advance health care directive is a non-binding document that identifies your preferences and wishes with regard to healthcare services. Although non-binding, the advance health care directive gives you a voice in the decision-making process should you become incapacitated. Your advance health care directive can include your preference for a specific doctor, which types of treatment you do and do not want, preferences for certain surgeries, whether you wish to be resuscitated, and other decisions such as organ donation.
Living Will – a living will is a binding document that generally covers the same topics as an advance health care directive. The primary difference between a living will and the advance health care directive is that your decisions in the living will are binding, whereas your decisions in the advance health care directive may be considered but are not required to be followed.
Power of Attorney for Healthcare – a power of attorney for healthcare grants another person of your choice the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. The power of attorney for healthcare can be used in conjunction with a living will or advance healthcare directive, with certain decisions being binding under the living will and other decisions being left up to someone else, such as your unmarried partner or friend.
In addition to the three above healthcare related documents, there are two finance-specific documents that should be considered.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney – like the power of attorney for healthcare, the durable financial power of attorney allows you to grant another person the authority to act on your behalf. Here, the selected person can manage your finances to the extent you grant such power. Examples of management include filing your taxes, managing your real estate and other investments, buying insurance, and managing retirement benefits.
Living Trust – a living trust allows you to place your assets into a trust to be managed by an individual of your choice who has a legal obligation to act in the interests described in the trust documents. A living trust can complement a durable financial power of attorney.
These are the two primary categories when considering end of life planning, but there are plenty more documents that are important to include, such as a will to distribute your assets upon your death.