Living Wills / Health Care Directives

An important part of estate planning is not only planning for when you die, but what will happen with your affairs if you become ill or incapacitated. Advance Health Care Directives and the Living Will can state your wishes and allow others to act on your behalf if you are unable to.

Health Care Power of Attorney

Advance Heath Care Directives typically consist of a Health Care Power of Attorney and HIPAA Authorization. With the Health Care Power of Attorney you name someone to make health decisions for you if you are unable to due to illness or incapacity. For example, if you need surgery but are unable to consent, the person you name can make an important decision on your behalf.

HIPAA (Privacy Rules Can Snag Estate Plans)

If you have been to the doctor’s office lately, you probably recall them giving you a “privacy notice.” Or you may recall getting these notices in the mail with companies that you do business with. New privacy standards were enacted under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 2003. Under these standards, medical professionals are not allowed to talk freely about a patient’s medical status. If they do they risk being fined or even face jail time for passing along health information that is private without proper consent.

HIPAA creates the potential for problems with existing power-of-attorney documents. If the power-of-attorney only “springs” into action the person designated to act on your behalf may not be able to prove your incapacity if they cannot access the information. Therefore the power to act as your agent cannot spring into action. The HIPAA authorization helps overcome this problem.

Make Sure Your Documents Are HIPAA Compliant

If your estate plan has not been reviewed and updated lately, you may want to set up an appointment to review your documents with a qualified estate planning attorney. A HIPAA Update Package includes an amendment to your Living Trust, a codicil to your will and newly updated health care documents and power-of-attorney. Call right for an Estate Plan Review.

The Living Will

Now it’s time to get a little morbid. To put it bluntly, the Living Will is the “pull the plug” document that says you don’t want to be kept on artificial life support or have nutrition or hydration if it has been determined that there is no hope for recovery. This is determined by your doctor and one other doctor to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. If you recall the Schiavo case, family members fought over whether or not to take Ms. Shiavo off life support. By having a Living Will you are deciding ahead of time what you want to happen. This takes the burden off of your family. The Living Will should be part of any good estate plan.

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