Making your healthcare wishes known in Texas

An important part of estate planning is ensuring that your healthcare wishes are known and enforceable in the event of your incapacity.

When you are starting out with your estate plan, you may be most concerned about where your assets go after you die. Although such a question is an important one, it is also crucial to answer the question of what would happen if you were to become incapacitated because of a disease or injury. Fortunately, it is easy to address this possibility in Texas through estate planning.

Communicating medical preferences

With advances in medicine, more people than ever are being kept alive (or brought back to life) by artificial means, such as life support machines, feeding tubes and CPR. In the absence of any instructions on your part, doctors and medical professionals will do what they can to keep you alive. Although this may be appealing for some, not everyone would like to be kept alive if they were in a vegetative state and could not enjoy life.

One way to make your wishes known to your medical providers is to execute a Directive to Physicians, Family or Surrogates (commonly known as a living will). This document allows you to communicate your wishes regarding artificial life-sustaining treatment in the event that you are unable to communicate because you have developed a terminal or irreversible medical condition. The directive does not affect your medical treatment when you are able to communicate, but only goes into effect when you become incapacitated.

Since no document can possibly address every possible medical situation that might happen, it is also helpful to have a Medical Power of Attorney. In this document, you appoint a person you trust to act as your agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document becomes effective when your physician certifies that you are incapacitated. Once effective, the agent can make the same decisions regarding your treatment as you can, unless you set limitations on his or her powers. If you have made a directive, you agent is legally bound to follow your instructions.

Aside from these two documents, you may wish to also execute an Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order. This document gives you the option of refusing life-sustaining treatments in settings outside of the hospital (e.g. emergency rooms, physicians' offices and medical clinics).

An attorney can help

Although it may not be foremost on your mind, communicating your healthcare wishes can save your family a lot of grief, as it takes the decision-making responsibility in this sensitive area away from them. Although there are boilerplate forms available to the public, they do not always adequately address the pitfalls that may arise. To avoid fatal gaps and errors and ensure that your documents are tailored to your individual needs, it is best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney during the process.