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The Importance of Health Care Directives

Health care directives allow you to tell your family and medical care team the level of life-sustaining medical treatment, artificial nutrition or hydration you want maintained if you become unconscious and have no chance of recovery from an accident or illness.  Living wills state your preferences on life-sustaining treatment.  Health care proxies or a power of attorney name another person to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

Health care directives are governed by state law.  You should consult your advisers, especially if you live for part of the year in a different state.  Make sure responsible friends, family members and medical staff have copies of your instructions.  Have a serious discussion with the person you name as your agent under your power of attorney for health care.

Like other components of your estate plan, your living will or power of attorney for health care should be reviewed frequently to ensure that your needs and treatment wishes are unchanged and that the person designated to make health care decisions for you is still willing and able to serve.  Review all your health care directives, and the rest of your estate plan, at least annually.  Estate planning should encompass everything related to the end of life, including a living will and a health care power of attorney.