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The Importance of Health Care Directives and Living Wills

When many Pennsylvanians seek the services of an estate planning attorney, they intend only to get a will and possibly a trust in place. They want to designate who will get their assets when they are gone.

Those documents are a great start to your estate planning. However, experienced estate planning attorneys tell their clients that they also need a living will and an advance directive for health care declaration, known in some places as a healthcare power of attorney.

These documents are designed to provide instructions not after you’re dead, but if you should become unable to make your wishes known. These documents designate a proxy or agent to carry out your wishes. They often address things like under what circumstances you want life support continued and how you wish to be cared for at the end of your life.

Once these documents are finalized, it’s a good idea to provide copies to your health care provider(s). This will make things easier for everyone should circumstances necessitate their use.

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It’s important to remember that the person you designate to be your agent won’t be able to use these documents to make decisions regarding your medical care until and unless you are no longer able to do so. However, it’s always best to choose someone with whom you’ve discussed your wishes and who will have no qualms about seeing them carried out.

There have been some sad high-profile cases over the years when estranged family members battled over how to care for a loved one who was comatose or otherwise completely incapacitated. While we may all make our wishes known verbally to a loved one at one point or another, it’s important to document them. This will help ensure that your wishes are honored when you’re no longer able to advocate for yourself.

Source: Cleveland Jewish News, “Living will, health care power of attorney key documents,” Andrew A. Zashin, Dec. 17, 2015

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