A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in four senior citizens will require someone else to make decisions for them at the end of their lives. How do you ensure that these decisions reflect your wishes, particularly when it comes to medical care?

Estate planning, specifically the drafting of advance medical directives, allows you to keep some control of your medical care when you are unable to express your wishes. Advance medical directives dictate your treatment preferences and give you the opportunity to designate a decision-maker in the event that you become unable to make these decisions on your own behalf.

Two of the most often used advance medical directives used in estate planning are:

  • A living will: A living will specifies the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures that you do and do not want, for instance, mechanical breathing devices such as respirators or ventilators, feeding tubes or resuscitation.
  • A medical power of attorney: A medical power of attorney allows you to name a person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate them on your own. The person you name to make these decisions is called your health care proxy or agent, and they are to act in your best interests, so it’s important to choose this person carefully.

Advance directives are the legal documents within an estate plan that allow you to convey your decisions regarding end-of-life care and health care ahead of time. Not only do advance medical directives provide a way for you to communicate your wishes to loved ones and health care professionals, but they ease the burden of making these decisions on your family, knowing that your wishes are being carried out.