When making your estate plan, do not forget to plan for incapacity

On behalf of Charles Wetsel at Teague & Wetsel, PLLC

In addition to wills and trusts, an important part of estate planning is making provisions for your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.If you already have a will or trust in place, you may think that estate planning is over for you. Although this is indeed an important part of estate planning, it is not everything. In order for your estate plan to be truly comprehensive, you also need to plan for the possibility that you may one day become incapacitated due to a serious injury or illness. For such an event, it is important to make provisions regarding your medical care.

In Oklahoma, medical treatment during incapacity can be addressed using advance healthcare directives. This is not a single document, but a series of documents, including a living will, healthcare proxy and provisions for organ donation. The minimum age to execute such documents is 18, so it is important for everyone that is of the age of majority to include these documents in their estate plans, as incapacity can strike at any age.

Living Wills

Living wills are documents that allow you to express the type of medical treatment that you would like, should you become irreversibly unconscious, develop a terminal condition or an end-stage condition-a condition that causes you to lose control of your faculties. In the living will, you have the opportunity to tell your loved ones and healthcare providers whether you would like life-sustaining treatments, such as feeding tubes, artificial respiration, or other life-prolonging procedures in such an event.

Healthcare Proxies

Although living wills are important, like all documents, they cannot possibly address every situation that can arise. Because of this, it is wise to have a healthcare proxy in addition to a living will. In this document, you appoint a trusted person to make decisions regarding your healthcare on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. Unless you set limitations on the proxy's power, the person you appoint steps into your shoes and can make the same decisions regarding your healthcare as you could, if you were not incapacitated. Although in the absence of limitations, your proxy can exercise some degree of independence, if you make a living will, your proxy must obey your wishes contained within it.

Under the law in Oklahoma, both the living will and healthcare proxy go into effect when two physicians certify that you are unable to make decisions for yourself. As a result, both documents do not supplant your ability to direct the course of your medical treatment while you have full control of your faculties.

An Attorney Can Help

Advance directives are important because they make it clearly known your thoughts and wishes on life-prolonging medical care. By doing so, it can spare your family from having to make this decision on your behalf during a very emotional time. If you have not already made provisions to this effect, it is helpful to speak to an attorney. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Teague & Wetsel, PLLC can listen to your wishes and tailor the necessary documents to make them a reality.