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A living will, essential to estate planning

For many individuals and couples, the first step towards establishing a comprehensive estate plan typically starts with a will. Once a will, and perhaps a trust, has been established another important, but often overlooked estate planning component is a living will or health care directive.

A living will helps an individual plan for end of life decisions. By its very nature, a living will can be a difficult topic to tackle for many. A change in perspective and approach to this important estate planning document, however, can help make the process of establishing a living will less difficult and burdensome.

When contemplating a living will, it's wise for an individual to think of how they want to live rather than die. For example, an individual may want to consider those activities they would still want to ensure taking part in, should they be stricken with a major illness and hospitalization. It's also important for an individual to consider whether they want to sustain their life as long as possible or let nature run its course.

When establishing a living will, an individual must also name a proxy who is designated to act on his or her behalf if necessary. It's wise, therefore, to designate a proxy who is a trusted friend or family member who will be able to carry out certain difficult wishes related to end of life decisions.

Once a living will has been established, it's wise to share details and wishes with family members. Loved ones tend to want to do everything to prolong a loved one's life which may not ultimately be in an individual's best interest. This is a major reason why it's important to establish a living will and inform involved parties of its contents prior to a medical emergency.

Source: Missoulian, "Sharing your wishes begins dialogue about living will," Kathy and Brian Derry, Jan. 15, 2013

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