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What should you cover in your health care advance directive?

A health care advance directive is an essential part of any estate plan. In fact, many younger people who haven’t gotten around to determining who they want to inherit their assets after they’re gone have an advance directive in place in case they’re seriously injured or ill and unable to communicate with their medical team or anyone else.

Along with the advance directive, you should designate someone to act as your health care representative. Here in Florida, that person is called a health care surrogate. They will have the right to get information about your condition and to talk with your doctors. You can also give them the right to make decisions, like whether to move you to a care facility or home.

You may give your surrogate the authority to make treatment decisions on your behalf. However, it’s typically best if you provide information in your advance directive that will let them know what you would prefer — particularly if you’re never going to recover enough to be the same person you once were.

So what kind of things should you address in your health care directive? Typically, these documents would include provisions about what kind of machines you want used to keep you alive and under what circumstances. For example, if you were in a coma with no chance of regaining any cognitive ability, would you want your life to be prolonged by machines?

These are not pleasant things to think about, but doing gives you the opportunity to ponder what “quality of life” really means. That’s different for everyone. Some people wouldn’t want to regain consciousness if it meant they would be completely paralyzed, for example, while others would.

By having an advance directive and designating a health care surrogate (and perhaps an alternate) to oversee your care, you help ensure that your wishes are known and carried out and help prevent family battles over the “right” thing to do.

An experienced estate planning attorney can guide you through the drafting of the necessary documents and help ensure that they reflect your wishes.

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