Tips on Avoiding Uncertainty about Health Documents While Estate Planning

Health documents used in an estate planning context are some of the most valuable documents that a person can have. These documents, however, often invite uncertainty because the documents are referred to by various names and one document can be confused for another. When it comes to the subject of estate planning, four primary types of healthcare planning documents exist.

# 1 – Healthcare Power of Attorney

Healthcare power of attorney documents are the most commonly utilized in the estate planning field. These documents are also referred to as healthcare surrogates or medical power of attorney. These documents often exist separately from durable power of attorney documents, which address legal and financial issues. Comparably, healthcare power of attorney documents appoints at least one individual who will function as a healthcare agent. These documents should also address an additional individual who will function as a backup. 

Power assigned through these documents can be immediately effective, but most time is only effective if a person can no longer appreciate the consequences and scope of healthcare decisions.  Even though most people view healthcare agents as the individuals who decide to end a person’s life, these agents are often the individuals who address the daily medical needs of a person.

# 2 – Living Wills

Advanced directives or “living wills” are documents that meet a person’s end-of-life needs. These documents are separate from health care power of attorney documents or can even be incorporated into the document. Even though a state form exists for advance directives, these documents can be personalized to address a person’s unique needs. Advance directives grant a person the authority to make end-of-life choices or explicitly necessitate the removal of life-sustaining medical equipment. 

Advance directives often necessitate that two physicians assess that a person has a terminal condition as well as that end-of-life is imminent and that the machine is only artificially advancing the dying process. These documents also feature statements addressing comfort and details of how artificial nutrition should be given to the individual. Advance directives only become effective if a person loses the capacity to make choices for themselves at the time the choices must be made, the individual is communicative, cognizant, and can still make an opposing choice. 

# 3 – HIPAA Authorization

A third type of estate planning document are HIPAA authorizations. These documents serve the role of authorizing another individual to receive access to confidential medical records. These authorizations should be included in a person’s healthcare power of attorney document, but can also function on their own. 

# 4 – DNRs

The fourth type of document are Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) documents, which are not for all individuals. If first responders find a DNR on someone, they will not try to resuscitate that individual. These documents are most commonly utilized by individuals with serious medical conditions.

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