For many people, thoughts about an estate plan focus primarily on creating a will or possibly a trust. While these tools are certainly valuable and central to the estate planning process, they are not the only things a person should consider putting into place. A good estate plan provides guidance for how a person would like matters handled when they cannot do so for themselves and this includes when they are still living. 

An accident or illness may render a person unable to communicate with doctors to make decisions about their own health care. Having an advance directive in place gives people the ability to provide guidance on their care in these situations. As explained by the American Cancer Society, the enactment of the Patient Self Determination Act in 1990 highlighted the importance and right of a person to make these choices. 

According to WebMD, an advance directive should provide direction in two areas. First, the document may outline their preferred choices regarding their care, what treatments they would want and what treatments they would not want. For example, a person might not want to be kept alive artificially if they were rendered brain dead. The advance directive should also then identify who has the legal right to make medical decisions on behalf of the person and to communicate with doctors, surgeons and other medical team members. 

When creating an advance directive, people should name a secondary responsible party in the event the first person is unable to perform the duties if or when ever needed. Consideration should be given to a person’s ability to understand and emotionally manage difficult situations. 

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