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Why a living will belongs in every estate plan

People often associate living wills with those experiencing extreme medical conditions. For someone dealing with cancer or battling a degenerative condition, it absolutely makes sense to put a living will in place. However, they are not the only ones who benefit from the protection of the documents included in a living will.

In fact, just about every adult who has preferences regarding their medical care or significant assets and financial responsibilities should consider creating a living will as part of their comprehensive estate plan. Failing to do so may leave your assets at risk and could place unnecessary strain on your loved ones in the event of something tragic happening.

What does a living will do?

There is some confusion regarding what a living will actually does. A living will is effectively a legal document or series of documents that outlines your wishes in the event that you experienced medical incapacitation of some sort. Essentially, if you cannot handle legal, medical and financial issues on your own, you're living will outlines your wishes and authorizes someone you trust to carry them out on your behalf.

Many people include both financial and medical power of attorneys and living will documents, along with advanced medical directives and instructions for managing financial responsibilities. A living will protects you, because it ensures that your medical wishes get followed if you are not able to voice them. It also helps reduce the potential for financial issues as the results of a medical problem.

With someone authorized by a power of attorney to handle financial responsibilities, such as paying utilities or a health insurance premium, you will know that regardless of what happens to you, your home and your assets will be properly cared for. On the off-chance you suffer a stroke, slip into a coma or experience a traumatic car accident, it is a good thing to have a living will place.

Make sure you put the right people in charge of decisions

You need to make sure that the person you choose to hold power of attorney in the event of your incapacitation will respect your wishes. You should select someone you trust who will have the capacity to handle that authority in the event that something happens to you.

A spouse or a child may not be the best choice. After all, they may be in a heightened emotional state. For some people, family is the only option they will even consider. For others, close friends or a trusted co-worker could also be a good choice. You may want to name the same person for financial and medical decisions, or split the authority between two people.

Make sure you discuss your preferences and the responsibilities with the individual you name in your power of attorney before signing any documents. Taking the time to discuss your wishes with loved ones is important. However, in a moment of extreme stress, they may not recall your exact preferences. A living will helps ensure that they know exactly what you wanted.

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