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End of Life Documents

Many people dread making a will and put it off as “something I’ll get around to doing someday.” Yet the process is quite straightforward, and a great relief once it is completed. There are four documents which I recommend everyone consider having, and each of their purposes is described below.

Will

A will is a document that states how you wish your property to be divided after your death. It provides for the disposition of houses, land, vehicles, furniture, personal belongings, money, pets, and any other item that you might own at the time of your death. A will can establish a trust for minor children. You can also name the person who will handle your estate after your death. I recommend that people review their will every 7 to 10 years to see if it still expresses their current desires.

Durable Power of Attorney

Unlike a general power of attorney, which becomes effective immediately after you sign it, a durable power of attorney becomes effective only upon your incompetence. Suppose, for example, that you have a car accident and are in a coma. At that point it is too late for you to sign a power of attorney to allow someone to handle your affairs and make business and personal decisions on your behalf. However, if you have a durable power of attorney, the person named as your agent can pay bills, buy and sell property, and do any other thing that you might do if you were able to manage your own affairs.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney is an authorization that you give to someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are unconscious, a health care power of attorney allows someone to consent to a blood transfusion or to surgery. Most hospitals now ask if you have a health care power of attorney when you are admitted.

Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death

This document, also known as a “Living Will,” states a desire to not be kept alive by extraordinary means (such as a respirator, ventilator, or by artificial nutrition and hydration) in certain extreme circumstances such as a “brain-dead” state, or if death appears to be imminent (such as late stage cancer). Many people feel strongly about the desires expressed in this document and find great comfort in having made their wishes known in advance.

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