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Including advance health care directives in your estate plan

Most people use the terms “will” and “estate plan” interchangeably, but a will is just one of the important documents included in a comprehensive estate plan. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and nears retirement, there has been a growing awareness about planning for medical care and making important medical decisions near the end of life.

As such, more Americans are taking the time to draft an advance health care directive, sometimes referred to as a living will. In the year 2000, only about 47 percent of elderly Americans had an advance health care directive. By 2010, however, that number had increased significantly to 72 percent.

While living wills and advance health care directives may be defined slightly differently depending on where you live, they are essentially documents expressing your wishes for medical care and end-of-life care. They are to be referenced if you become unable to make decisions or unable to communicate them. Examples could include end-stage Alzheimer’s disease or being in a coma.

Additionally, you can designate a trusted loved one to serve as health care proxy or health care power of attorney. This would be someone who knows your wishes and could make medical decisions on your behalf if you can no longer do so.

Remember that taking care of these aspects of your estate plan will help your loved ones as much as it will help you. When medical emergencies result in incapacitation, family members may have an extremely difficult time trying to make decisions on your behalf, especially ones that could literally mean the difference between life and death. In other cases, family members may know your wishes but have not been designated to make them on your behalf.

No matter what your age, an advance health care directive is one aspect of your estate plan that should be in place. Life is uncertain, which is why we need to be prepared for a number of contingencies.

Source: Medical Xpress, "Record number of older adults completing living wills," April 2, 2014

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