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Advance Directives: Three Simple Documents That Can Give You Peace of Mind

When used together, health care powers of attorney, living wills, and powers of attorney can be powerful tools to ensure that your legal and medical wishes are followed if you are unable to implement them yourself. These documents offer relatively inexpensive alternatives to expensive guardianship proceedings for incapacitated loved ones.

Legal power: A power of attorney is a legal instrument that allows a person of your choosing (agent) to conduct your business if you become legally “incapacitated.” A properly executed power of attorney in the hands of a trusted relative or friend can ensure that your legal, financial, business and other personal affairs can be managed if you are unable to manage them yourself. A power of attorney can be as broad or limited as you like. For example, you can authorize your agent to handle your bank accounts, real estate, taxes or family support needs, or all of your affairs. Although a power of attorney is usually effective upon execution, it may state that it applies only in a certain event, such as your disability. Powers of attorney can be a powerful help to family members who may need to access their financial accounts, manage their property, or manage other matters in the event that you are unexpectedly unable to do so. In New York, the standard power of attorney must be executed in accordance with legal requirements. You may want to work with an attorney to prepare the document so that it can be enforced when you need to.

Health Care Proxy: A health care proxy gives a third party (power of attorney) the ability to make your medical decisions if you become incapacitated. It is different from a power of attorney because it is the only advance directive that allows another person to make medical decisions in her name. His agent is required to direct his care to reflect his preferences regarding treatment decisions and his moral and religious attitudes toward care. Like a power of attorney, a health care power of attorney is only valid while you are incapacitated. For example, your proxy has the ability to direct your attention while you are in a coma or other unresponsive state, but cannot act if you regain the ability to make your own decisions. A health care proxy generally assumes that you have already expressed your wishes to the person you designate as proxy. However, it may be a good idea to also commemorate your end-of-life wishes in a living will. Health care proxies must be executed in a certain way to be binding. You may want to work with an attorney to make sure your wishes can be carried out if necessary.

Living will: A living will is a document that states the type and length of medical treatment you want to receive if you have a Terminal illness. In this sense, a living will is more limited in scope than a health care proxy because it only governs end-of-life decisions. An individual has the constitutional right to make decisions regarding the denial or termination of life support. In New York, “clear and convincing evidence” of the patient’s intent must be proven. A living will is not a binding document, but it serves as “clear and convincing evidence” of its intent. When combined with a health care proxy, a living will can spell out the types of treatment you would like to save your life and the circumstances under which each should be administered. There are no legal guidelines on creating a living will. However, problems can arise if the terms of your health care proxy conflict with the terms of your living will. To avoid these problems, you may want to work with an attorney to create both documents.

When properly drafted, powers of attorney, health care proxies, and living wills can prevent a multitude of problems associated with illness and end of life. Medical emergencies are emotional enough. Help your family avoid arguments, uncertainty, and costly court proceedings by executing these important documents today.

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