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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Five reasons to have a health care directive

Much of estate planning focuses on wills, as well it should, but planning for incapacity is equally as important. Of the documents that I consider the "basics" of an estate plan, the health care directive is the one that most people seem to believe is optional. In my view, there are many good reasons to put a health care directive in place, and here are my top five:

1.  When you complete a health care directive, you choose who will be your decision-maker and spokesperson. If you don't do this document and you lose capacity, you may have no say in who is named by the court to represent you.

2.  In many jurisdictions, you can choose the level of help you want. This may range from supported decision-making for a specific type of decision (such as selection of housing) through to complete legal representation. By choosing the level of assistance you believe you need, you may head off well-meaning but intrusive help that you don't particularly welcome.

3.  Health care directives are too often simply a cookie-cutter document, but by using an estate-planning specialist to prepare yours, you can include instructions that are important to you and helpful to your family. For instance, you could express wishes about living somewhere you may worship at the church of your choice, about eating Kosher, about keeping your pet with you, about refusing blood transfusions, or about which of your children you'd like to live with.

4.  Making and documenting your decisions ahead of need is a gift to your family members. Never underestimate the value to your spouse, children and extended family in preventing distress, guilt and disputes.

5.  Having this document prepared ahead of need while you're healthy is a heck of a lot cheaper and easier than having someone in your family go to court to be appointed as your health care guardian.

When you have your will prepared, or next time you have your will updated, you should have a health care directive (aka health care proxy, personal directive, or advance directive) prepared as well.

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