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Should I consider an advance directive as part of my estate plan?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2022 | Estate Planning |

For Tennessee residents, it is important to be prepared for the future. Many will think about that in the context of retirement, shoring up their finances, making certain their basic needs are in place and they have prepared as much as possible. One uncomfortable issue that people tend to avoid is estate planning. While most understand how important it is to create an estate plan – whether it is basic or more complicated – they might put it off. There are many reasons for this and it goes beyond simple procrastination. For some, creating an estate plan is an acknowledgment of the inevitable future when they will no longer be here. Still, despite the difficulty, it is imperative to know its value. A key part of that is an advance directive for health care.

Key points about an advance directive for health care

With an advance directive for health care, there are fundamental points to remember. With this document, decisions on an incapacitated person’s medical care are not left to others. People often misinterpret an advance directive to mean they should complete it once they are ill. That is a mistake as people can suddenly find themselves unable to communicate with their fate left in the hands of others. If, for example, a person needs to have a feeding tube inserted or requires a respirator to stay alive and they do not want these life-saving treatments administered, an advance directive can state clearly what they do and do not want done to maintain life.

There is a form that must be filled out naming an agent, an alternate agent and the circumstances under which the agent(s) will be granted the power to make the health care decisions in the principal’s stead. The agent will be identified and their relationship with the principal and all contact information will be included. When the agent is unable or unwilling to fulfill the duties, an alternate agent can take over. The principal can also say when the advance directive goes into effect.

There are several events that can put the advance directive into action with the agent granted the power to make decisions. The principal can check some and not others or all can be checked. For example, if the person is permanently unconscious and in a coma, that could be a reason for the advance directive to activate. It can include permanent confusion such as when a person has Alzheimer’s; is dependent on others for all aspects of daily survival; or is at an end stage in an illness like cancer. The treatment options can also be listed, approved or declined.

Having guidance throughout the estate planning process is key

This is not a simple matter that should be offhandedly completed. A substantial level of power is given to a person who is named as an agent in an advance directive for health care. With that, it is vital to name a trustworthy and mature person who will understand the person’s desires and adhere to them no matter how painful it might be. With this or any other area of estate planning, it should not be done lightly. Having caring, professional assistance with determining the preferred course of action and ensuring it is done in an aboveboard and legal manner is essential. Having guidance from the start and when changes need to be made to a completed document is vital and consulting with those who understand these issues is a wise start.