Many Tucson residents have firm beliefs as to how they want their medical care to be handled, especially if they are facing a terminal illness or are unable to communicate their wishes. Advanced directives – a durable power of attorney and a living will – can be beneficial parts of an estate plan to address these concerns and ensure that their wishes are carried out. These can avoid complex challenges that are frequently confronted by family members whose incapacitated loved one has not completed these documents.

With a living will, the person will have a prepared and written statement that details the level of care they desire if they are in this situation. Understanding this is a critical part of making these vital decisions and can help a family as they are facing these issues. A living will is different from a durable health care power of attorney. The latter gives another person – an agent – the right to make the decisions. The living will already details what the person wants. Many people choose to have both, so that should be considered as an option.

The agent with a durable power of attorney makes the decisions about the person’s health care as if he or she is that person. For example, the durable power of attorney can prevent such measures as a feeding tube to keep the person alive. A living will does not do that. If these documents are not completed, the family will be responsible for making these decisions. That could be a spouse, adult children, parents, domestic partners, siblings and even a close friend.

People who do not want to be kept alive through artificial means may want to sign a do not resuscitate (DNR) form. This is a difficult decision as it prevents medical professionals from keeping that person alive when they will die without intervention. Clearly, these are complicated issues to navigate. For those who do not want to be in a position where they are incapacitated and kept alive through artificial means that will not change their situation, an advance directive can detail their preferences. To understand these forms and what they mean, it is wise to have legal advice to determine the proper course of action. A firm experienced in estate planning may be able to help.