Living wills and health care proxies

California residents may be interested in information about health care decisions as one of the more important aspects of estate planning. While many think of estate planning as dealing mostly with the disposition of a person’s assets upon death, making these health care determinations while still healthy can be vital.

The documents that govern medical care in an estate plan are the health care proxy and the living will. Both of these are important in cases where a person has become incapacitated and cannot make their own health care decisions. The health care proxy gives power of attorney to a third party with regard to these decisions. This generally applies when the person is unable to communicate or is not in the proper mental state to make these important decisions. Usually, one person is named, but successors can also be named in the document when that original person is not available to perform their duties.

A living will, on the other hand, is a document which gives medical care directives with regard to end-of-life decisions. The types of things covered are the use of life-saving machines and techniques, such as a heart-lung machine or tube feeding. Without these procedures, the person would die. Having this document will allow doctors to either make use of the procedures to prolong the person’s life or to prevent their use, if the person so chooses. The living will is important when the person is terminally ill and incapacitated.

Determining the appropriate estate planning documents can be difficult without the help of an attorney. The attorney can assess a client’s situation, both financial and personal, and determine and then prepare the specific documents that will be appropriate.

Source: American Bar Association , “Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives“, December 15, 2014