Wills and trusts are the parts of the typical estate plan that deal with what to do with your property after you pass away. But a well-crafted estate plan does not have to focus solely on this important matter. We also have the power to tell our doctors and loved ones how we wish to be cared for, if we are ever too ill or incapacitated to do so ourselves.
Two documents are among the most commonly used to direct medical decisions. A living will provides instructions to doctors and other medical professionals regarding possible life-saving procedures. People have different desires about how far they want doctors to go to keep them alive after a catastrophic accident or toward the end of a terminal illness. Some would prefer that doctors do all they can, while others object to the use of feeding tubes and respirators to prolong their lives.
In a living will, testators can make those desires clear, so that no medical decision will be made that would contradict those wishes.
Another way testators can guide their medical care during a time they cannot speak up for themselves is by appointing a surrogate. A health care surrogate is a document that allows you to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. By clearly naming a surrogate, you can avoid potential family conflicts later on over who should make choices about your care.
With a living will and a health care surrogate as part of their estate plan, a testator can rest easy knowing that he or she has taken a measure of control over end-of-life situations. But until you have actually created the estate plan, these preferences may not be honored.