A living will and a health care surrogate designation are both advance directives that can help make sure someone’s preferred medical decisions are made, even if he or she cannot make them. Because both documents serve a similar purpose, many people only choose to include one of them in their estate plan. However, the two documents provide the most coverage when they can work together.
A living will documents your wishes
People often confuse a living will with a last will and testament, but the two are very different documents. A last will and testament allows you to document what you want to happen after your death. However, a living will allows you to document what you would like to happen when you are alive, but unable to communicate your wishes.
A living will is a document that allows you to detail the type of medical care you do or do not want to receive if you become unable to express your own wishes. This could happen as you age and become less mentally competent. However, it could also happen suddenly if something unexpected, like a car accident, renders you unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.
Health care surrogate is an alternate decision-maker
A health care surrogate designation is a document that allows you to select someone to serve as your alternate decision-maker for medical decisions. This document also allows you to leave some specific instructions for the person you trust as your surrogate.
Many people choose a family member or close friend to be their health care surrogate. You could choose a spouse, adult child, sibling or other trusted person. However, trust is the key. You must be able to trust your alternate decision maker to decide based on your wishes, not his or her wishes for you.
Sometimes one document is not enough
Without a living will or a health care surrogate, your health care decisions could end up being made by someone who does not know your wishes. It could be a court-appointed guardian, or it could be a close family member. In some cases, when family members do not know your wishes, there can be a delay in treatment as they try to determine the best course of action. If family members disagree about the decision, it could even cause a rift in a family.
If you have either a living will or a health care surrogate, you have some protection from this occurring. However, it can be beneficial to have both documents because the benefits of the documents overlap in a complimentary way.
A living will allows you to say in your own words what you want, but it may be impossible to account for every possible situation. Because a health care surrogate is a person, he or she can make decisions based on what he or she knows about you, even if you were unable to predict all the situations you might encounter. However, the living will can help inform those decisions and keep your surrogate on the right track.
Deciding what documents to include in your estate plan can be a very personal decision. However, a living will and a health care surrogate designation are two documents that can benefit almost anyone.