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Estate planning: revisited

In May 2004, I wrote on the need for estate planning and the associated paperwork that was needed for a good plan to be in place. As the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged Florida woman, wound its way through the courts, doctors and patient advocates called on people to create living wills, documents that detail the kind of medical care they would want in case they can’t voice their own wishes.Living wills are an important part of your estate plan, especially since they can communicate your feelings about what kind of life is worth living to your family. It can be critical if family members don’t agree on your treatment, as has been the case with Terri Schiavo; her husband requested to have her feeding tube removed, while her parents sought to keep her alive in a protracted legal battle. A U.S. district judge in Florida denied Ms. Schiavo’s parents’ request for an emergency injunction to keep her fed.Estate planning attorneys and physicians I have spoken with say the more important decision, however, is creating a health-care-proxy or power-of-attorney document. This designates a person, such as a spouse or trusted friend, who can legally act as your agent, making medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. When planning, a contingent agent is also a good idea if something happens to your first choice or if they do not want to serve. Co-agents, though, in my opinion, are not a good idea. If the agents disagree to your care, you could actually be worse off. Still, most Americans haven’t done this. In a 2003 survey conducted by AARP, only two in five adults age 45 or older had a durable power of attorney for health-care decisions.An advance medical directive typically includes both a health-care proxy and a living will. The living-will portion “spells out what you want or don’t want when you are seriously ill and likely to die and unable to communicate your wishes,” states Gordon Williams, an estate planning attorney in Colorado Springs.Before signing the documents, it is smart to check with a lawyer to make sure you know the proper witnessing requirements and that the document clearly expresses your wishes. Many people have religious considerations about end-of-life decisions or organ donations, for instance, that might not be reflected in a generic state form.If you have homes in multiple states, check with your lawyer to make sure your medical directives comply with laws in all those states. Be sure your agent has authorization to access medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).Once the documents are signed, give copies to your doctors, your hospital, your agent – and backup agent – and other family members or close confidantes. Make sure to sit down and talk about your wishes with the person you have named as your agent, lawyers say.Doctors encourage people to periodically refresh their health-care directives. If your health-care proxy dies, gets sick or moves away, you will need to designate someone else. Living wills also need to take into account medical advances that can turn what once was a terminal or irreversible condition into something treatable.Donnell Services, LLC719-886-3377Registered RepresentativeSecurities America, Inc. & Securities America AdvisorsMember NASD, SIPCFor more information, visit www.alexdonnell1.sarep.comDonnell Services, LLC, Securities America, Inc. and Securities America Advisors are independent companies.

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