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Planning for incapacity with powers of attorney and living wills

Without certain estate planning documents, the event of incapacity can leave an estate owner's family members in limbo. To help prevent confusion and possible disputes over assets and medical care, let's take a look at a few items that can allow estate planners in Texas to be as clear as possible about their wishes.

In the event that an estate owner becomes unable to make his or her own medical decisions, an important document to have is a medical power of attorney. Without one, a number of parties, including adult children, a spouse and siblings, might be forced to decide among themselves who should make medical decisions for you.

Regarding specific medical treatments, a medical power of attorney lets you give detailed instructions, or you can take a more general approach. The party you name in the medical power of attorney is the person who will have the right to make medical decisions if you are incapacitated.

Along the same lines, a living will, otherwise known as an advance directive, can clarify what should happen if you are incapacitated and diagnosed with a terminal illness. A living will specifies a person's end-of-life wishes, including matters related to pain medication and other medical decisions up to the very last moments of a person's life.

Because a living will supersedes a medical power of attorney, family members can be spared the decision to remove a loved one from life support.

If the owner of an estate becomes unable to make decisions regarding financial matters, then a financial power of attorney is an important document that names an agent to handle the incapacitated individual's assets and debts. Without a financial power of attorney, a court could end up appointing a conservator, and that can lead to greater expenses and family disputes.

Arranging for the possibility of incapacity may not be the most pleasant part of estate planning, but making these plans now can go far in easing the burden on loved ones in the event of a serious accident or illness.

Source: The Gazette, "MONEY & THE LAW: Estate planning goes beyond wills," Jim Flynn, Sept. 15, 2013

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