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Law Office of Rodney Gould July 10, 2020

If you can’t speak for yourself, how will your loved ones know what you want? The answer to that question is an advance directive, a legal document that explicitly outlines your health care wishes.

Despite being a crucial piece of an effective estate plan, most of us don’t have one. If you are one of those individuals, where do you start? Here are three key elements of an advance directive to help you get started.

1. Selecting someone trustworthy

If an individual is unable to communicate, they need someone else to make decisions on their behalf. One of the main purposes of an advance directive is to designate this person (known as an agent) beforehand.

Your agent will have the legal authority to make health care decisions for you. This could involve the use of certain medications, where you will be cared for, the involvement of a religious or spiritual leader and whether to consent to different treatments.

2. Outlining your care preferences

An agent cannot act based on their own preferences. They are expected to follow your wishes to the best of their ability, based on what they know about you as well as what is written in your advance directive. In your directive, you can outline the types of care with which you are comfortable. You will want to consider questions such as:

  • Do I want my life prolonged with every tool available?

  • Am I comfortable with life support machines, such as a feeding tube or ventilator?

  • Are there treatments I do not want under any circumstances?

  • Is it important for me to be at home during my end-of-life care?

These are incredibly difficult questions, but by answering them now, it means your family and loved ones will not be left to come up with an answer on their own.

3. What happens next?

In an advance directive, you can specify whether you would like to be an organ or tissue donor. You may also consent to an autopsy, and can even lay out funeral or burial wishes.

An advance directive alone is not enough

It is important to have a legally sound advance directive in place. However, this only covers the health care aspect of estate planning, and does little to address the financial aspects that must be taken into account.

Addressing your financial legacy with the available legal tools, and understanding the potential tax implications and impact on heirs, can help bring your estate plan closer to completion.