Health Care Proxies And Living Wills In An Estate Plan
An important aspect of estate planning is the planning for health care during the latter stages of life. Some people have some idea of what will happen to them if they need medical care later in life, or rather, they assume that a family member will step up and make the right decisions for their care. Instead of leaving these important decisions to chance, a person can plan ahead by executing a health care directive that designates a person who will make important decisions regarding medical care in case the person making the designation is incapacitated.
The appointment of another person to make medical decisions is done through a health care proxy. New York law allows a person to appoint an agent to make medical decisions on behalf of the person making the appointment. A health care proxy only goes into effect after the person becomes incapacitated. The agent usually makes medical decisions based on the wishes of the patient, and ensures that the medical professionals caring for the patient follow the wishes. The agent can be a family member or close personal friend. There is no requirement that the agent be related to the patient for the designation to be valid.
Sometime a health care proxy may be confused with a living will. A living will differs from a health care proxy in that a living will outlines the wishes of a person regarding his medical care in case of incapacitation, but does not specify an agent to make sure that the wishes are honored. A person can use both a health care proxy and a living will to ensure that he does not receive certain life prolonging care if he is in critical condition. There is a standard form that a person can use to designate a person as a health care proxy, but there is no form for a living will. A person has to draft their own living will and make sure that is it clear and unambiguous about the person’s wishes.
In some cases, it is best to discuss the terms of a living will and health care proxy with close family members who may dispute or refuse to accept the terms of these documents. If for example a person plans to decline resuscitation as a medical intervention, or refuses to be kept alive by life support machines, he should consider informing his family of these decisions. This can spark debate that the person executing these documents does not want to engage in, but it can also help the family members prepare themselves and keep them from trying to invalidate the health care proxy or living will later on.
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Having a health care proxy or a living will in place can provide peace of mind. In addition, even though these documents allow a person to plan for incapacitation and not what happens after he dies, this is still an important aspect of an estate plan. To find out more about health care proxies and living wills, contact an experienced attorney at Meyer & Spencer, P.C., an estate planning firm with offices in Pleasantville and Mahopac, New York, serving Westchester and Putnam Counties.