fifties_couple4When you think of estate planning, do you think of leaving a legacy to your loved ones, burial expenses, and your final wishes? Most people do. But it’s important not to neglect another very important aspect of estate planning: Who will make decisions for you if you’re extremely ill or cannot communicate? Consider the following options to protect yourself and your estate:

Draft a living will. Due to several high-profile events in the news, you may already be aware of the importance of living wills. This directive will tell your physician which type of life support you will accept, and under what circumstances and for how long you will accept it. Without a living will, doctors have no way of knowing your preferences and these decisions will be left up to them and your immediate family members.

Give someone durable power of attorney. This person will be able to make financial and legal decisions for you. In the event that you are incapacitated, having a trustworthy is the best way to protect your finances and property.

Designate someone as a health care proxy. This can be the same person you grant durable power of attorney, or a different person. Your health care proxy will be responsible for making important decisions about your health care, in the event you are unable to do so. They might choose facilities, decide upon medications or treatments, arrange for long-term nursing care, and make other important decisions about your health. Choose someone who is very familiar with your wishes regarding health care issues, to be sure they will make the decisions you would make if you were able. This person should be aware of your living will, and be prepared to present it to your attending physician in the event that it is needed.

If you haven’t already designated a health care proxy, given someone durable power of attorney, and drafted a living will, now is the time to pay attention to these important decisions. Consult with your lawyer to be sure your wishes are expressed in legally binding documents, so that your estate and life are protected in the ways that you choose.