When preparing estate plans, it is natural to focus on who should receive what when you pass away. Setting up trusts, adding beneficiaries to accounts, and drafting final will and testament documents are all extremely important to ensure that assets transfer smoothly and in accordance with your final wishes. However, it is also important not to stop there in the estate planning process.
A comprehensive estate plan should also include provisions for what should happen if an accident or illness leaves you physically or mentally incapacitated. Who will make medical decisions on your behalf and look after your best interests if you are unable to and what will those decisions entail?
Unfortunately, it is possible for anyone at any time to face this type of situation. It is not limited to the elderly. Life is unpredictable. No one wants to be scrambling to get things in order after a major accident or medical diagnosis turns their world (or a loved one’s) upside down.
This is why advance directives should be part of any comprehensive estate plan. In general, advance directives are written statements that clearly explain your wishes regarding medical treatment. They come in two forms:
You may be thinking, “I already have a will in place. My spouse gets the house and my sister gets the motorcycle.”
However, a Living Will has absolutely nothing to do with financial assets. A Living Will addresses the situations in which you would want medical treatment to extend your life. This document may cover when you would want:
You can also include your wishes for the treatment of your remains after you die. For example, do you want to be an organ donor or donate your body to science? Those wishes should be included in your Living Will.
Depending on your state of residence, a Living Will may or may not be considered legally binding. However, even if it is not legally binding, a Living Will is still an official record of your wishes that can provide end-of-life instructions to loved ones and medical providers.
The Medical or Healthcare POA is another type of advance directive that may also be referred to as a healthcare agent, healthcare proxy, or patient advocate.
If you have a Medical or Healthcare POA, your designated person is appointed to act as your advocate if you are deemed incapacitated. This advocate should be someone you trust to make medical decisions for you and champion your wishes should there be any disagreements about your care.
The patient advocate may be given the power to:
Both a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney must be in writing and may require witnesses and/or notarization. Each state provides its own templates for advance directives, which can be found online. You may enlist an attorney to help draft the documents; however, it is not required. For Michigan residents, signing of advance directives must be witnessed by two unrelated parties. Templates can be found here: Microsoft Word - Advance Directives.docx (michigan.gov)
Once finalized and signed, the original Living Will and Medical or Healthcare POA documents should be kept in a safe place. We recommend providing copies to your primary care physician(s) and your appointed patient advocate. These documents can help you start the conversation with friends and family about your end of life wishes.
We recommend reviewing advance directives once a year to ensure that your wishes have not changed and that you are still confident in the patient advocate you have appointed.
If you have any questions about advance directives or general estate planning, please reach out to your Blue Chip advisor for guidance. We are here to help.
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