Make incapacity planning part of your Texas estate plan

With advances in medicine, it is more important than ever to address the possibility of incapacity in your estate plan.

As medicine progresses, people of today are living longer than ever when faced with injuries or diseases that once had a high mortality rate. However, this also means that more people are left in a vegetative state, unable to communicate their wishes regarding their medical treatment and financial affairs, after suffering an injury or illness that would have killed them 30 years ago.

Fortunately, through sound estate planning, it is possible to address medical treatment and financial affairs in the event of incapacity. In Texas, this is done through an advance directive. Although this sounds like a single document, it is actually a collection of several documents, each having its own function.

Advance directive components

An important part of an advance directive in Texas is called a Directive to Physicians, Family or Surrogates. This is commonly known as a living will. This part of the advance directive lets you make your wishes regarding your medical treatment known in the event that you cannot make them known yourself, due to an injury or illness. In the document, you can specify the types of life-sustaining treatment that you would like to receive if you are in a persistent vegetative state or develop an irreversible or terminal medical condition (rendering you unable to communicate). This document allows you to specify your wishes regarding the use of respirators, feeding tubes and other methods that artificially prolong your life.

Since a living will cannot possibly address every circumstance that might arise, another important document to execute as part of your advance directive is a medical power of attorney. In this document, you appoint a trusted person to make medical decisions on your behalf. The medical power of attorney does not affect your ability to make medical decisions in normal circumstances. Instead, it only becomes effective if your doctor certifies that you are incompetent to make your own treatment decisions.

In the medical power of attorney, the person you appoint (your agent) must follow any instructions that you have placed within the document and must obey any living will that you have executed. You have the option of limiting the scope of your agent's power. However, in the absence of any limitations, your agent may make the same decisions regarding your treatments as you could, if you were able.

To ensure that your wishes regarding artificial life-sustaining treatments are enforceable outside of a hospital, it is necessary to have an Out-of-Hospital-Do-Not-Resuscitate Order. This gives you the option to decline defibrillation, CPR and other artificial life-sustaining treatments when you are being treated in places such as doctors' offices, clinics and emergency rooms.

Dealing with financial matters

Aside from dealing with medical treatment, estate planning is vital to ensure that your finances are managed in the event of your incapacity. This can be done by executing a durable power of attorney. In this document, you appoint an agent to manage your financial affairs (sign contracts, pay taxes and bills, and manage investments) on your behalf, if you ever become unable to. Like the medical power of attorney, the durable power of attorney does not go into effect until you are incapacitated and allows you to set limits on your agent's powers.

When planning for incapacity, it is important to ensure that every reasonable possibility is addressed. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Hayes & Wilson, PLLC can customize these and other necessary documents to fit your wishes, ensuring that your medical and financial affairs will be handled the way that you would like them to be.