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What are Advance Directives, and Why Does Your Estate Plan Need One?

Most of what we think about when we hear the words “estate planning” is how our property and assets will be distributed after we pass on from this earth. Some of your estate plan, however, needs to address exactly how you want to be medically treated while you are still alive but unable to make decisions or communicate those wishes. For these unique situations, you need to strongly consider making an advance directive; we’ll explain below what this is and why you need one.

What Situations Necessitate an Advance Directive?

Virginia law allows any adult who is “capable of making an informed decision” to make a written advance directive to address his or her health care “in the event the declarant is later determined to be incapable of making an informed decision.” You might have heard this state referred to as “incapacitation.” For example, medical personnel often refer to a patient’s advance directive if the patient is unconscious from a catastrophic car accident and is unlikely to regain consciousness. 

Advance Directive vs. Living Will vs. Health Care Power of Attorney

If you have ever been admitted to the emergency room, a nurse might have asked whether you had a living Will. A living Will is a document that lays out one’s preferences when it comes to their end-of-life care. A health care power of attorney is another legal document that authorizes a trusted friend or family member to make decisions about your end-of-life care when you are otherwise unable. 

An advance directive can encompass aspects of both a living will and a healthcare power of attorney in addition to providing direction regarding do-not-resuscitate orders or preferences regarding organ donation. Typically, an advance directive for Virginians contains separate sections reserved for your living Will, health care power of attorney, and anatomical gifts.

After you create an advance directive, make sure to give a copy to your regular doctor, health care provider, and trusted friends and family. 

Having an Attorney’s Help is Crucial

Plenty of online services offer do-it-yourself estate planning forms, purportedly for free. It’s never advisable, however, to handle complex legal situations yourself — estate planning included. Something you fill out on your advance directive could be in conflict with other documents in your estate plan and cause a long, painful legal process among your family members. You don’t know what you don’t know, which means having an attorney at least look over your estate plan is imperative. 

Norton Pelt is wholly dedicated to helping clients unravel complex legal issues and put them on a better path forward. We also help clients prevent future legal issues. If you’re a first responder, nurse, or medical personnel, you can set up a free consultation with us today. No matter what your situation looks like, we will represent you with the strength of the mountain. Reach out today to get started

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