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Equally important as having a will in place, is ensuring you have properly executed health care documents. These documents include Health Care Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. Both are important documents that communicate your wishes regarding health care decisions if you were for some reason unable to communicate them yourself.
What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
A Health Care of Power of Attorney is a legal document that you (the “principal”) create that gives your agent the power to make health care decisions for you if you no longer are capable of doing so. For example, if you were in a car-crash and were in a coma, you no longer have the mental capacity to inform your health care providers what your medical wishes are. In that case, your Agent would be able to make those decisions on your behalf. To be validly executed, formal requirements must be met regarding witnesses and notarization.
Since health care decisions are so important, it is wise to think carefully who you choose to be your health care agent. Generally, individuals pick agents that they know and trust to make these types of informed decisions.
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will, also known as an Advance Directive can give valuable guidance to health care providers and family members about important medical decisions in “end-of-life” situations. Unlike a Health Care Power of attorney, a Living Will does not give any agent the power to make decisions. Rather, the document itself provides directions to medical providers. Also, a Living Will applies only in “end-of-life” decisions, not just situations where a person loses mental capacity. Like a Heath Care Power of Attorney, to be properly executed, the Living Will must be signed and notarized according to State law.