Advance health directives: an important part of any estate plan

When the term "estate planning" comes to mind, most people think of wills, trusts and other means of transferring one's wealth from one generation to the next. However when putting together their own estate plans, many people fail to plan for the possibility that they may become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions or communicate their medical wishes on their own. Advance medical directives cover such contingencies and are an important part of estate planning in Colorado.

In Colorado, there are two main components of an advance medical directive:

  • Living will
  • Healthcare power of attorney

An advance medical directive can have one or both of these documents. If you sign an advance medical directive, it does not take away your right to make medical decisions for yourself if you are able to do so, but allows your beliefs and decision to be carried out in the event that you cannot communicate them.

Living wills

A living will addresses the administration, withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining procedures if you have a terminal condition, are unconscious or are otherwise incompetent for seven consecutive days. In the case of such an event, this type of document allows you to communicate whether you would like life-sustaining procedures such as CPR, defibrillation, surgery or medications to artificially prolong your life. Even if you refuse life-sustaining treatment, medical professionals will continue to provide treatment to reduce your pain and suffering.

Additionally, living wills can also include your wishes as to what should be done if you are in a persistent vegetative state, as this is not considered a terminal condition. A living will also allows you to indicate whether you would like to be an organ donor.

Health care powers of attorney

A healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a person (known as an agent) to make medical decisions on your behalf should you not be able to make them for yourself. Unlike a living will, the agent's power to make decisions on your behalf is not limited only to situations where you are terminally ill or in a vegetative state. However, if you do have a living will, the agent must carry out the wishes that you expressed.

In a healthcare power of attorney, you have control over how much authority you would like to grant your agent. In addition, you may include specific directions, guidance, wishes or beliefs to assist your agent in making the decision on your behalf.

Consult an attorney

In addition to allowing you to remain in control of your medical treatment, advance medical directives can make it easier for your loved ones by eliminating the need for them to guess what you would have wanted. If you have not included this important document in your estate plan, contact an experienced estate planning attorney to learn about the options that would fit your situation.