An estate plan isn’t just about who gets what when you die. It’s also about who takes care of you and what medical wishes you have if you are alive but become incapacitated for one reason or another.
A comprehensive estate plan should include a health care directive, sometimes known as an advance medical directive, to protect you when you cannot speak on your own behalf due to incapacitation. This document will outline your wishes and preferences on a number of important medical treatments.
Comfort care or pain management
Narcotic painkillers and sedation are both among the most important medical advances of the last century. Unfortunately, they can also be addictive and they increase someone’s likelihood of death due to the secondary effect they have on the body, such as suppressing respiration.
You can indicate in your health care directive if you would prefer to not receive pain relief when you can’t speak for yourself or if you want doctors to prioritize comfort over the risk of addiction or death.
Resuscitation attempts, like CPR or artificial defibrillation
You can address whether or not you want medical staff to attempt to resuscitate you in the event that you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. People past a certain age, those dealing with severe pain or those fighting a protracted battle against a terminal condition may all decide that resuscitation may not necessarily be in their best interest.
Life support, like ventilators and feeding tubes
Modern medicine has the ability to effectively keep someone alive even if their brain no longer functions properly. In some cases, those with severe conditions who require ventilators, feeding tubes or other life support may recover due to those medical interventions. Other times, life support is nothing but a costly prolonging of the inevitable.
You have to make a decision for yourself about what measures you want medical professionals and your family to undertake when your body can’t operate without assistance. People sometimes also include issues that impact their religious beliefs, like a refusal of blood transfusions or transplant organs, within their health care directive. Exactly what issue you address and what decisions you make will depend on your health and your personal values.