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What do advance directives mean in an estate plan?

On Behalf of | Jul 21, 2023 | Estate planning |

No one can predict the future with 100% accuracy. Most people understand the importance of planning ahead in various aspects of life. The estate planning process enables you to execute a plan that protects your assets and ensures that your loved ones will receive the inheritance you have in mind for them after you die. There are ways to make your estate plan work for you while you’re still alive, however, such as by incorporating advance directives. 

There are several types of advance directives, which are legal documents that you sign but that don’t take effect unless you become incapacitated and unable to communicate on your own behalf. Even if you’ve already implemented an estate plan, you can add an advance directive later, if you didn’t do it when you initiated the plan. A living will and a power of attorney are the two most common advance directive documents.  

An advance directive enables you to maintain control of your health 

What if you were to be involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury so that you were no longer able to form coherent speech or communicate your thoughts in any way? The advance directive document known as a “living will” provides instructions for a medical team during emergency or end-of-life care.  

For example, if you do not want resuscitation if you experience cardiac arrest, you can include that in your living will as treatment you want to avoid. The same goes for use of a ventilator or receiving artificial nutrition. If you do not have a living will, you can logically assume that a medical team would initiate these treatments as part of their protocol.  

Signing a durable power of attorney means you’re choosing a representative 

The other type of advance directive document that often goes together with a living will is the durable power of attorney. This document enables you to choose someone who will have the authority to act on your behalf, to make medical decisions and to ensure that others follow the instructions in your living will. The durable power of attorney goes into effect if you become incapacitated.  

Advance directives are not only for older patients 

While it’s true that you may be more at risk for things like a heart attack or stroke the older you get, such things can occur in your 40s as well, or younger. This means that signing advance directives is beneficial to anyone who is old enough (age 18 and beyond) to execute an estate plan.  

In fact, it’s wise to implement these documents when you are younger because one of the requirements for validity is that you must be of sound mind when you sign a living will or power of attorney. Older people often suffer from dementia or other neurodegenerative conditions that would affect their ability to execute a legally enforceable document.