Did you know that you are never too old or too young to begin estate planning? In many cases, the process leads to a greater awareness of what is truly important and how to protect it. Family and finances are the most common estate considerations, but another critical aspect is health care. Too often, younger adults overlook the importance of health care planning because they are typically healthier and less experienced in health matters than older adults.
Younger adults may fail to consider who could legally look after their affairs if they became ill or incapacitated. They may also fail to consider who could make health decisions on their behalf if they were unable to do so themselves. If children are involved, health care planning can be all the more vital. In reflecting on the importance of health care estate planning, let us take time to discuss four mistakes to avoid when you decide to pursue this worthwhile endeavor:
1. Failing to give an ‘agent’ certain powers. While you may have a financial power of attorney in place, your agent will be limited to those powers granted them relating to financial decisions and actions. For health care purposes, a health care surrogate must be established which will grant your agent the ability to make critical health care decisions on your behalf should you be unable to do so yourself. Make sure you have the right legal documents in place so that your agents are empowered to take the actions you want them to be able to take.
2. Not choosing an effective advocate. Properly crafted estate planning documents may be useless if they are ignored or in the hands of an advocate who cannot or will not advance your best interests. Choose wisely or consider making alternative arrangements if an existing advocate or health care agent is not up to the task.
3. Not keeping important health documents on file. Do not assume that your personal health care documents are universally recognized. Powers of attorney, living wills, privacy releases, and other estate items should be circulated among your regular health providers and kept in your medical record. Copies should also be kept along with other important health records when visiting a medical professional for the first time.
4. Failing to consult with an estate planning attorney. For the same reason you would consult a mechanic to fix an engine, or a surgeon to perform an operation, an estate planning attorney is uniquely qualified to craft legally sound health care documents to fit an individual’s needs.
Do not wait for a health care emergency to arise before you put health care documents in place. These documents help see to it that your health care wishes are honored even if there comes a time when you are unable to communicate these wishes for yourself. If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on these important legal planning tools, contact our office today to schedule a meeting.