Estate planning tools can ensure your health care wishes are followed

As expected life spans increase and our population ages, it is more important than ever before that people understand the importance of long-term health care planning.

When most of us hear the phrase "estate planning," we might first think of something like a will or a trust, wherein we are leaving property or other assets to loved ones after we die. Estate planning is much more versatile than just property distribution, however. There are many estate planning tools that can be utilized while we are still alive in order to ensure that our wishes are carried out regarding financial decisions, health care preferences, long-term care and more.

Key estate planning documents to help you meet your goals

Obviously, if you are planning on leaving property to heirs after you pass away, it is important that you have a will or trust that clearly dictates your wishes. This is particularly true if you have specific bequests for individuals (such as leaving an heirloom to your grandchild or passing your parents' vacation home to your sibling); having your wishes spelled out in a legally enforceable document not only helps ensure that they will be followed, but also can stave off disagreements amongst your loved ones in the future.

In addition, there are other estate planning documents that can prove just as helpful when it comes to ensuring that your voice is heard and your wishes carried out.

For example, a durable power of attorney is an extremely helpful legal tool that will protect you in the event that you should suffer an accident, contract an illness or otherwise become incapacitated. A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint a trusted family member, friend, colleague or professional to make important housing and financial decisions or transactions on your behalf. This means having access to your accounts, paying your expenses and managing your investments, among other things. The terms of the extent of the person's control over your finances can be broadly or specifically detailed in the document itself, giving you the ability to have clear input into your financial situation well in advance of any need for supervision or assistance.

Another helpful but sometimes overlooked estate planning document is a health care power of attorney (not to be confused with an "advanced health care directive"). A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf, known under Michigan law as a "patient advocate." If you are married, this duty generally falls to your spouse, but you can provide otherwise if you'd like someone else to handle this responsibility instead.

Health care powers of attorney also allow you to set out particular wishes you have regarding your care. If, for example, you prefer to be seen by your general practice physician prior to being seen by a specialist, your health care power of attorney can state as such. You may also have particular religious beliefs that disallow the use of certain medical procedures; use your health care power of attorney to get your objections on the record. Furthermore, you can set out your preferences for such difficult issues as end-of-life care, including whether you would want to be kept alive via a ventilator/feeding tube or if you want medical staff to take measures to resuscitate you if you stop breathing.

For more information

We never know what will happen from one day to the next. To protect your assets and your family, it is best to plan ahead. To learn more about Michigan estate planning, and to get started, contact the Detroit-area office of Prince Law Firm toll-free at 866-383-1125 or locally at 248-419-1968.