The term, end of life documents, cover a wide range of needs. Some of these documents instruct your loved ones on how to proceed with your medical care should you become incapable of expressing your wishes, while others instruct your executors as to the disbursement of your estate after your death. While there are certainly plenty of people who go through life without ever creating any of these documents, you and your family will be much more comfortable if you have them in place.
Health Care Proxy
This is perhaps one of the most important but overlooked documents to consider. This document allows you to designate an individual who can make your medical decisions if you cannot. The person you designate as a health care proxy will make any decisions necessary that are not covered in your living will, for example, consent for a medical test, procedure, or surgery. Assigning a health care proxy does not give that individual the right to make decisions on your behalf if you are willing and able to do so for yourself, and you can always revoke or change your proxy.
A living will, also known as an advanced directive, is a document that allows you to specifically state the types of treatment and care you want if you are unable to make a decision for yourself. This document is common among those with terminal illnesses and might, for example, include a “do not resuscitate (DNR)” order. You might also use this form to clarify what life-saving measures can be used if your condition changes. Many people ask they be allowed to pass peacefully without feeding tubes or, in an emergency, without artificial resuscitation.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney document is separate from the healthcare proxy, even though the proxy is also sometimes called a “healthcare power of attorney.” This document gives the person you assign the ability to handle your finances on your behalf. They may help you while you’re still able, or take over completely if you are not. This document, like the others, can only be created if you are of sound mind. You’ll also need to make sure there are no special requirements at your bank or brokerage firm in order for your power of attorney to be recognized.
Last Will and Testament
Your last will and testament instructs your lawyer and executor as to how you wish to see your estate distributed upon your death. Your executor may or may not be the same person you designated for your other needs, such as power of attorney or health care proxy. That’s up to you to decide.
While the majority of these forms can be found online, it is often better to sit down with a lawyer and/or a financial advisor to make sure every aspect of your estate and your wishes are protected and to guarantee your documents are completed properly.