When asked to name the purpose of estate planning, most people would say that it is to ensure that their assets go to the persons or institutions of their choice. Although having the necessary trusts and wills in place to accomplish this is important, there is another aspect of estate planning that most people overlook-incapacity planning. As everyone is subject to accidents, injuries and disease, it is possible that you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to communicate your medical decisions. Taking the time to include your medical instructions in your estate plan can provide guidance to your loved ones, as well as offer peace of mind to yourself.
In Indiana, you can make your healthcare wishes known using an advance directive. Typically, an advance directive is not a single document, but several documents that work in tandem to make your healthcare wishes known.
One component of an advance directive is a living will. This written document allows you to express your healthcare wishes in the event that you are unable to communicate or become terminally ill. In this document, you may list the specific types of treatment that you want (or do not want) to receive if this should happen. Additionally, you can include instructions on whether you would like life-prolonging procedures like blood transfusions, CPR, feeding tubes or respirators.
Under Indiana law, your living will only goes into effect if you become unable to communicate your medical decisions. Once created, your living will may be cancelled or modified by you at any time.
To address situations that may arise that are not covered by your living will, it is also a good idea to appoint someone that you trust as your healthcare representative. This person is empowered to receive healthcare information and make decisions regarding your treatment on your behalf, if you cannot. Under the law, if you made a living will, your healthcare representative is required to base his or her choices on your wishes contained in the document. Otherwise, your representative must make decisions that are based on your best interests.
Power of attorney
In order to ensure that your financial affairs are looked after should you become incapacitated, it is important to appoint an agent to act on your behalf. You may do this by executing a durable power of attorney. Although you may customize or set limits on the matters your agent may handle (and when the power of attorney goes into effect), agents are commonly empowered to:
• Handle your financial affairs (e.g. tax returns and other routine matters)
• Sign healthcare contracts on your behalf
• Access your medical records
• Sign papers admitting or releasing you from hospitals or other institutions
Under the law, your agent may also act as your healthcare representative, should you desire.
An attorney can help
Planning for incapacity can be a difficult process. As a result, it is helpful to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can walk you through this process and ensure that the necessary documents are in place to protect your assets and carry out your healthcare wishes.