Tom Bodin, a Practice Integration Advisor with Buckingham Strategic Wealth, works with dentists to help them achieve financial freedom through a comprehensive approach to wealth management.
One key element of a comprehensive financial plan is a proper estate plan. While this can feel like a morbid topic, it is the unfortunate reality that life has a 100 percent mortality rate. Individuals who are confident in the strength of their estate planning documents and that their end-of-life wishes will be carried out often express relief at being able to instead focus on the things that bring them the most joy in life.
In this article, I will delve into one aspect of the estate-planning process, specifically, the creation of a living will. A living will, also called a health-care directive or an advance directive, does not function the same way as your actual will. In fact, a living will is a document only enforceable during your lifetime. It is the guiding document for your end-of-life medical care. Most often, a previously drafted living will is put in force when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Being able to control what life-saving or life-prolonging measures that physicians may take and defining your preferred end-of-life care not only can be comforting to you, but also to your family and loved ones, who will want guidance and assurance for the decisions they may have to make on your behalf.
In crafting a living will, there are certain decisions you will have to make. Some questions to consider include:
1. Do you want to outline specific end-of-life treatment or appoint a health-care power of attorney? How detailed do you want to be with your possible treatment? Is this something that you want to appoint an individual to navigate on your behalf?
2. Who will your agent(s) be? You agent is the individual or individuals responsible for carrying out your living will directives and serving as your advocate for the decisions described in it.
3. Do you want to participate in medical research or donate your organs?
4. If you are in a persistent vegetative state, when do you want life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn?
5. What unique circumstances or requests do you have that pertain to your end-of-life care?
Once you have made these decisions, the process for creating a living will is straightforward. Online legal document builders, of which there are many, can take you through much of the process. These provide a good framework and can be used to avoid significant billable time with your estate-planning attorney. However, you do need to have your living will reviewed by your estate-planning attorney to ensure that it is aligned with your other estate-planning documents, that it is enforceable when needed, and that it reflects the unique laws in your state.
Once you have completed a living will, you should ensure a copy goes to the following individuals:
- Your primary care physician
- Your personal attorney
- Your spouse
- Your agent
You should also retain a copy of your living will in a safe location along with the other components of your estate plan. My colleague, Mike McAninch, recently outlined the various elements of a comprehensive estate plan.
With your living will drafted, reviewed by your attorney, and accessible to multiple parties, one last step remains. Explain your wishes and motivations to your agent and the other people close to you. If called upon, your agent will be responsible for critical elements of your medical treatment; do not leave your agent feeling as though he or she might need to make any decision on your behalf without knowing your wishes regarding it.