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How will health care decisions be made if you cannot make them?

Life is unpredictable, but that does not mean that you are unable to plan for some possibilities. Although most estate planning documents focus on what you would like to happen after you pass away, advance health care directives allow you to plan what you would like to happen if you are still alive but unable to express your wishes for medical care.

Health care power of attorney 

A health care power of attorney is one of the legal documents that make up an advance health care directive. A health care power of attorney allows you to choose someone, called an agent, to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so.

It is important to choose someone you feel comfortable talking to about medical issues. This person can be an adult family member or close friend and should be someone you trust to make choices as you would, even if that is not what that person wants for you. It may also be beneficial to choose someone who lives close enough to you to be available when his or her help is needed.

Living will

A living will is another component of an advance directive. A living will allows you to specify your wishes for or against certain types of medical treatment in specific situations. Often, people use a living will to share their wishes against being kept alive on a feeding tube or ventilator.

Although a health care power of attorney allows your agent to make decisions for you whenever you are unable to make decisions for yourself, a living will only goes into effect if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Because of this, the two documents often work well together as long as your wishes remain consistent in both.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether a health care power of attorney, living will or both are appropriate for your situation. However, almost every adult can benefit from creating a plan for how health care decisions will be made in the event of incapacitation.

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