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The importance of a health care directive in an estate plan

People in Pennsylvania may want to consider adding a health care directive to their estate plan. A health care directive appoints someone to make medical decisions on a person's behalf if that person becomes incapacitated. It also specifies a person's wishes for medical care, including end-of-life care.

Spouses, adult children or other friends or family members are often chosen for this role. It is important to talk to the person who has been appointed. This person will be making decisions under duress, and clearly expressed instructions can make the process less difficult. For example, the health care directive, which is also sometimes referred to as a living will, a durable health care power of attorney or a medical directive, can specify whether a person wants continued treatment or instead wants palliative care.

Health care directives can also specify what a person wants to happen to the body after death and may even include directions for funeral arrangements. People may feel strongly about cremation or burial. Although organ donation is usually indicated on a license, it can be included in the directive as well. People may only want to donate certain organs, or they may want their entire body donated for research purposes.

There are other documents people may want to consider including in an estate plan. For example, a financial power of attorney gives someone the ability to make a person's financial decisions in case of incapacity. All estate planning documents should be reviewed and updated periodically since families, tax laws and assets can also change. People should also remember that beneficiary designations, which are used to pass assets such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, are also part of an estate plan. These override trusts and wills, so it is particularly important to review them after divorce, deaths or births to ensure they are up to date.

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