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'Living wills' don't carry legal force in Michigan

Taking the time to make an estate plan is often a very big step for many people. No one likes to think about decisions related to the end of life, which is a sentiment that might be shared among many young people. However, failing to formalize critical plans -- especially in terms of health care -- can create a lot of frustration and pain for loved ones.

In order to plan ahead for all of life's twists and turns, a person might think about creating an advance directive. Anyone can become suddenly incapacitated due to an accident or illness, so important medical decisions might have to be made on their behalf. Without any guidance, this can become tricky.

Many people might immediately think about creating a living will, a document that clearly lays out a person's wishes in relation to specific medical situations. Although this strategy might be well-intended, it's critical to note that a living will isn't legally enforceable on its own under Michigan law. As such, a person may have to take the time to determine what options will hold up in critical moments.

According to the University of Michigan Health System, state law provides a couple options in terms of advance medical directives: a durable power of attorney for health care and the other is a do-not-resuscitate declaration. The latter of the two provides coverage in non-hospital settings, while power of attorney designations empower a person to make medical decisions on behalf of another.

Of course, designating a health care advocate is an important decision that deserves careful consideration. Even though the person selected as health care advocate might be trustworthy, it may be necessary to provide specific guidance. It's worth noting that a living-will style document can accompany power of attorney selection. This way, it may be clearer what decisions to make in a given situation.

Not only is it important to create a plan that provides direction during a potentially stressful period, but it's also important to make sure that whatever estate plans are created aren't flawed. Incomplete power of attorney documentation only opens up the door to legal challenges, which can overshadow an individual's immediate medical needs.

Source: University of Michigan Health System, "Advance Directives: Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care," accessed March 3, 2014

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