Beebe and O'Neil

Have you talked with your family about medical preferences?

Modern medicine is truly amazing in the number of options it offers people with various injuries or illnesses. From the ability to help people extend their life when dealing with fatal, degenerative diseases to impressive levels of trauma care, modern medicine can save more lives than any previous medical system in human history.

With all of those advancements comes the opportunity for you to make decisions about your medical care. Many people don't stop to think about what their wishes would be in a specific medical circumstance until they find themselves facing it. Others have to ask those uncomfortable questions when a loved one gets sick or they watch a movie about someone with a terminal illness.

Regardless of why you're thinking about end-of-life care, it's important to make sure that your family understands your wishes and preferences as they apply to medical care in the event that you cannot speak for yourself. The best way to make sure your family follows your wishes is to commit them to writing in an advance medical directive.

You can create a directive to guide your loved ones and medical professionals

An advance medical directive is a document that outlines each of your wishes for various medical procedures in the event that you cannot speak up on your behalf.

For example, you may have told your family that you would not want to be placed on life support in the event of a serious accident. However, in a moment of tragedy while dealing with an unexpected situation, your family members may not remember that was your preference.

By creating a directive, you author a document that authoritatively explains to your family your preferences. That way, they don't have to make any difficult decisions without your guidance, and you don't have to worry about them making the wrong choice on your behalf.

Power of attorney documents ensure someone can speak on your behalf

If you aren't married, the right to make medical decisions will transfer to other close family members. That could mean that someone who doesn't know your wishes is the person who winds up making decisions for you. It's also possible that your closest relatives will be in the same incident that leaves you incapacitated.

Naming someone whom you trust but who is not a member of your immediate family to make decisions about medical care via a power of attorney may be in your best interest. In fact, even if your loved ones don't wind up hurt in the accident that hurts you, a power of attorney document can protect them from the stress of making those critical medical decisions.

If you already have an estate plan, it may be time to revisit and expand it to include those more difficult decisions. Even if you already have an advance medical directive, revisiting that every few years to update it to reflect your most recent medical preferences is usually in your best interest as well.

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