Many people think that estate planning is just about what happens when someone dies. However, an equally-important part of estate planning is ensuring that you are cared for while you are still alive. If you become incapacitated, even for a short period of time, who will pay your bills or decide where you should live? Who will determine what doctors will care for you, or what treatments and medicines you will receive?
A comprehensive estate plan will include powers of attorney for both your finances and health care to ensure that the persons making decisions on your behalf are the ones that you want. You can select different people - and backups - for your financial and health care powers of attorney. Without these powers of attorney, if you become incapacitated, your family may have to go through the court process of having a guardian and conservator appointed for you and that can be expensive and onerous.
Besides the routine responsibilities that your agent under a financial or health care power of attorney may have, you can also give specify directions regarding different situations. For example, if you are incapacitated, do you want to continue making charitable donations or paying for a grandchild's piano lessons? Can your health care agent make mental health care decisions on your behalf?
The clearer you are with your wishes, the better your loved ones will be able to care for you during any periods of incapacity. So, when you are thinking about your estate planning, be sure to consider how you will be cared for during your lifetime as well.