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Prioritizing end of life care when estate planning

A recent survey conducted by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation polled people in four countries about their end-of-life concerns. What their polling found among participants from the U.S., Brazil, Italy and Japan was that priorities varied depending on their location, but there were points of commonality. One such example was the U.S. and Japan, whose participants both harbored concerns about burdening their family with high end-of-life care costs.

For Americans in particular, medical bills can be insurmountable. It’s understandable that this would be a critical concern for individuals planning out their later years. Yet while high medical costs were a paramount worry in the survey, only 27 percent of participants had put their end-of-life wishes in a written document. The study highlights an important if not often discussed facet of estate planning: being prepared for end-of-life care.

The healthcare decisions to make

For those in the process of estate planning, there are a few avenues to pursue when mapping out end-of-life wishes:

  • An Advance Health Care Directive. An advance health care directive is a written, non-binding document that spells out your medical care wishes in the event that you’re incapacitated. This document can also dictate what type of facility you’d prefer to be in, as well as organ donation and life support considerations.
  • A living will. A living will is very similar to an advance health care directive, with the major distinction being that it’s a binding document. What that means is that you can instruct doctors to not intervene for life-extending purposes. Because it’s legally binding, doctors cannot act outside of your wishes.
  • Healthcare power of attorney. Granting a healthcare power of attorney means that you’ve designated an agent or proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf. This is typically used if you’re unable to speak, or are otherwise incapacitated. This document can be detailed to include very specific medical care wishes, not unlike an advance health care directive or living will.

While these are just a few tools at your disposal to aid in curbing end-of-life care expenses, there are other aspects of a comprehensive estate plan that can help as well. Regardless of what stage of estate planning you’re in, if you are concerned about leaving your loved ones with medical costs, it’s beneficial to know the options available to you.

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