What is an advance directive?

When most people think about estate planning, they imagine documents like wills and trusts. While these documents are essential to protecting your assets after you are gone, other estate planning processes protect your best interests while you are still alive. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, an advance directive provides legally binding instructions on how you wish to receive care at the end of your life. Advanced directives are crucial if you experience a terminal illness, or are no longer able to make decisions on your own due to dementia or cognitive decline. An advance directive is also crucial if you are in a serious accident and are unresponsive. There are two ways you can make your wishes known to doctors and family when you are unable, as explained in this guide. 

Medical power of attorney

Some people choose a person to speak on their behalf when they are incapable of doing so. This person is known as a medical power of attorney, who you authorize to act on your behalf to ensure your wishes are fulfilled. A medical power of attorney can be someone in your family, such as your spouse, or it can be a close friend. The person must be trustworthy so you can rest assured that your wishes will be carried out. They must also feel comfortable communicating your wishes to family and medical staff, even when they disagree with them. Finally, your medical power of attorney must be able to separate his or her own feelings and beliefs from yours. 

Living will

Most people choose to select a medical power of attorney and implement a living will for the greatest protection. Living wills spell out wishes regarding end-of-life care in great detail. They contain information and instruction on things like feeding tubes, ventilators, organ donation, resuscitation, and more. For example, your living will may stipulate you only wish to receive palliative care, which means medical staff can only provide therapies to make you comfortable, not to prolong your life. It is best to create living wills with the help of doctors and legal professionals to ensure the information is accurate and legally binding. 

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