When you think of estate planning, a trust or will may come to mind. While these are important parts of any estate plan, many people overlook the equal importance of having a healthcare directive as a part of their complete estate planning package.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of having a thorough estate plan has been brought to the forefront. Although the pandemic has been devastating, it’s important to remember that we face many other risks to our health on a day-to-day basis.

From a serious illness to a car accident, there are many unexpected events that can arise quickly. If you are suddenly unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself, what will happen? This is where documents like a medical power of attorney, living will, and advance instruction for mental health treatment can prove invaluable.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

In a medical power of attorney, you appoint a person or persons to make any medical decisions when you are unable to. Your medical power of attorney will take effect only if and when you cannot make or communicate those important decisions for yourself.

You should always grant the power to someone you trust completely because you may have to rely on their judgment when it comes to making very important decisions regarding your medical treatment and personal care. If you’re married and you choose your spouse to make these decisions for you, you should also include a successor agent in case something happens to your spouse.

What Should You Include in Your Medical Power of Attorney?

You will want to provide guidance to your named agent as to what your wishes are, but you do not necessarily need to include this information in the document creating the power of attorney. Talk to the agent you appoint to make these healthcare decisions for you and express your wishes.

You can clearly state in your medical power of attorney what you want and don’t want, and the types of decisions your agent is authorized to make. This can include such things as whether you want feeding tubes, organ donation, what treatments you would want or whether you would want doctors to withdraw treatment and under what circumstances.

The state of North Carolina requires individiuals to follow specific rules when establishing all advance directives, including a medical power of attorney. Working with an estate planning lawyer can ensure that your documents meet the qualifications and can be enforced.

What is a Living Will?

Unlike a last will and testament that expresses your wishes of how your assets should be distributed when you pass away, a living will is a legal document that clearly states what you want your end-of-life healthcare to look like. Your living will provides instructions as to when you would like certain life-prolonging medical treatment stopped to allow you to pass away naturally. Your living will is only effective when your attending doctor attests that you are suffering from an end-of-life medical condition.

What is an End-of-Life Medical Condition?

An end-of-life medical condition is determined by your doctor. It could mean that you have an incurable illness that advanced to the point that death is expected to occur in a short period of time. A living will may be activated if you are unconscious and not likely to regain consciousness or if you have an irreversible loss of congnitive ability. You can decide whether or not you want life support or medication in various situations.

Who Should You Appoint as Your Agent?

When appointing your healthcare agent , you will want to choose someone who understands your wishes and values and will pursue them even if faced with opposition. Before selecting your agent, you may want to consider:

  • Reliability
  • Availability
  • Willingness to serve
  • Advocacy skills
  • Ability to understand medical issues
In summary, your agent should be someone who knows you extremely well and is willing to discuss the serious issues surrounding end-of-life responsibility.

How to Include Healthcare Decision-Making in Your Estate Plan

It is a good idea to work with estate planning attorney to create your advance healthcare directives. Once your medical power of attorney, living will, and other recommended documents are signed, you should then make sure your doctor and hospital have a copies on record.

Putting your healthcare preferences in writing can allow you to be heard even if you become unable to voice your desires. Our estate planning attorneys will listen to your concerns and can create healthcare directives designed to ensure your wishes are followed regardless of what the future brings.