When the topic of estate planning arises people generally think about preparing their assets to be transferred to their loved ones after they pass away. Indeed, this exercise is at the core of estate planning, but during current times there are other issues to consider as well. Medical science is capable of some amazing things as technologies advance, and doctors can now keep people alive using artificial means for extended periods of time when they are in an unresponsive and terminal condition. Of course this is something that people who have reached an advanced age are going to face more frequently than others, but younger people also sometimes fall into unresponsive states due to accidents or catastrophic illnesses that strike them before their time.
Many people have very strong opinions about whether or not they would like to be kept alive via artificial life support systems. There are no absolute rights or wrongs because this is a purely personal decision, but everyone should make their wishes known. If your family members were forced to make such a life and death decision without knowing your feelings about these matters, a devastating time in their lives would be made that much more difficult. They may not all agree on the correct course of action, compounding the problem further. And the decision that is ultimately made may not be the one that you would have made had you been able to communicate.
Advance health care directives are recommended by estate planning attorneys to address these situations. The advance directives that are most commonly utilized are the living will and durable medical power of attorney or health care proxy. With a living will you state your preferences regarding medical procedures such as the use of artificial life support systems to keep you alive should you fall into a terminal condition. With a durable medical power of attorney or health care proxy you appoint an attorney-in-fact who is empowered to make health care decisions in your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to make them for yourself in real time.
Advance health care directives should be a part of your comprehensive estate plan. If you do not have the documents in place at present you would do well to arrange for an appointment with an estate planning attorney so that you can take care of this important matter sooner rather than later.