An estate plan can, and should, contain more than a will. The will is the largest part of your estate plan, as it contains how you wish your property to be distributed upon your death, who the executor of your estate will be, and the name(s) of the guardian(s) of any minor children. But just because it contains the most information does not mean it is the most important. There are several other critical documents that can round out your estate plan and should not be forgotten, such as an advanced healthcare directive, a medical power of attorney, a statutory durable power of attorney, and a HIPPA form.
An advanced healthcare directive, or living will as it is sometimes referred to, allows you to memorialize your wishes regarding end of life health care decisions so your desires are known at a time that you may not be able to communicate them yourself. In a typical advanced healthcare directive, you will give instructions for two different treatment preferences. First, you will decide what your treatment preference is if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition for which you are not expected to survive longer than six months, even with available life sustaining treatment provided in accordance with the prevailing standards of medical care. You will elect to either withhold life sustaining treatments, other than those needed to keep you comfortable, or to be kept alive in your current condition using available life sustaining treatments. Second, you will decide what your treatment preferences are if you are diagnosed with an irreversible condition. An irreversible condition is a condition that you are expected to die without available life sustaining treatment, but not necessarily within six months. You can either elect to withhold life sustaining treatment, other than those needed to keep you comfortable, or to be kept alive in the irreversible condition using available life sustaining treatments. There are two important things to note about the advanced healthcare directive. First, your decisions in this document will only be relied on if you are incapacitated and unable to make your preferences known. Second, these decisions typically do not apply to hospice care. So, if you or your healthcare representative elect hospice care, you will only receive treatments needed to keep you comfortable and not be given life sustaining treatments. If you have any questions regarding what types of treatments are considered life sustaining treatments or about how these decisions may relate to your specific health care situation, you may wish to speak with your doctor before you sign an advance healthcare directive to ensure you are making the best decision for you. The advanced healthcare directive is a critical piece of your estate plan as it saves your family from potentially having to make a difficult decision regarding your end of life health care. Not only will the document serve as a record of your desires in the above outlined scenarios, but you will have also discussed your desires with your family so they will also have knowledge of what you would like to happen in the event you cannot decide for yourself.
Two other important pieces of your estate plan are the statutory durable power of attorney and the medical power of attorney. A statutory durable power of attorney grants an agent or an attorney in fact powers with respect to your property or financial affairs. You can choose to have those powers effective immediately or upon your incapacitation or disability. Your power of attorney does not have to be a lawyer, it can be anyone that you trust to handle your property and financial affairs responsibly. The person you grant as your attorney in fact will not have the ability to take advantage of their control over your finances and do anything for personal gain without criminal repercussions, but it is still important to choose someone that you trust. A medical power of attorney allows you to select someone to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make the decisions for yourself. This covers any other scenario that the advanced healthcare directive does not, such as what treatment you should have in the time of a critical injury or illness. This document will only take effect if a doctor decides that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. Both power of attorney documents are an important part of your estate plan as they let doctors and/or your family and loved ones know who you want to be making decisions and caring for your personal affairs at a time when you are not able to do so.
A simple document to consider adding to your estate plan is a HIPAA authorization form. HIPAA laws provide privacy and security provisions for protecting medical information. These privacy laws are very extensive, however, and can even prevent family and loved ones from finding out basic information such as what room you are in in a hospital. A HIPAA authorization form allows you to waive some of those privacy shields for a few individuals of your choosing. This document will not waive all of your protections under HIPAA, but it will allow the people you choose to have access to some basic information.
Your estate plan could contain more than these five documents, but these primary documents will round out your estate plan and give you more peace of mind than just a will.