Your estate plan should include a legal document that explains how you want medical decisions made if you cannot make the decisions yourself. In Washington, D.C., this document is typically called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. In Maryland, this document is called an Advance Directive
An advance directive lets your health care team and loved ones know what kind of health care you want, or who you want to make decisions for you when you cannot. An advance directive can help you think ahead of time about what kind of care you want. It may help guide your loved ones and health care team in making clear decisions about your health care when you can't do it yourself.
Advance directives only apply to health care decisions and do not affect financial or money matters. A living will tells which treatments you want if you are dying or permanently unconscious. You can accept or refuse medical care. You can include instructions on:
- The use of dialysis and breathing machines
- If you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops
- Tube feeding
- Organ or tissue donation
Almost certainly your lawyer will ask you to sign a health care directive concerning the withholding of nutrition and hydration. We each have a definite idea as to when quality of life has diminished too far. It is helpful to share that information with your healthcare agent who has to be a part of carrying out instructions. If you don't share that information, people may let loved ones linger because they have not discussed what intervention they want.
You might not think this is relevant to estate planning. However, estate planning is based on actuarial life expectancies. If you have particular health concerns or health conditions that could change assumptions of life expectancy, we would plan differently.
When preparing funeral expenses and final arrangements, there are details you should tend to in advance of your passing so you can make sure you're doing the right things.
You can include directions in your living will or in your trust about the specific type of arrangements you want. You can designate a funeral representative, probably a family member, to make those decisions or carry out the decisions you've made.
If you want to prepay, ask the funeral director where the money goes. It should be assigned to a trustee account that's set up on your behalf and on behalf of everyone else who has prepaid. That way, if something happens to that funeral home, your money is still there, and someone else can act on your behalf and carry out your final wishes.