A health care proxy can be a valuable tool in your estate planning kit. But don’t confuse this document with a “living will,” which you might use to try to accomplish the same objectives.
As the name implies, a health care proxy is a legal document that lets you authorize an agent to make medical and health care decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. This can include difficult end-of-life options. The idea is to appoint someone you trust to act the way you would have wanted. Therefore, it’s critical that this person completely knows and understands your feelings.
Health care proxies also may help resolve disputes within families. The agent has sole discretion and makes decisions based on your personal philosophy. Legally, family members who disagree won’t be able to interfere.
Similarly, a living will (recognized in most states) may be used to carry out your wishes. However, with a living will, you spell out instructions in writing, and that may leave room for different interpretations. Instructions such as, “If there is little hope of recovery, I would not want heroic measures taken to preserve my life,” can mean different things to different people. There’s no reliable way of writing a living will to cover every possible medical contingency or viewpoint.
Which do you prefer? Consult an expert to determine your best course of action.
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