An integral part of your estate plan is creating documents that express your end of life decisions concerning healthcare. You never know exactly how the latter stages of your life will be spent so it is important to make sure that you are prepared for whatever fate may throw your way.
As medical science makes continual advances patients' lives can be extended through artificial means for long periods of time. The implications of this can be controversial. Some have strong opinions on the subject, which could be drastically different than your own opinions. To make sure that your personal preferences are honored in cases when you are unable to express yourself you can include advance health care directives in your estate plan. Two that are widely utilized are the living will and the durable medical power of attorney. In the living will you state your specific preferences. In the medical power of attorney you authorize your agent to make health care decisions in your behalf in the event you are incapacitated.
There are provisions contained in the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that make it illegal for health care professionals to divulge any personal patient information without the patient's express consent. It is not recommended that you wait until you are admitted in a facility to sign an authorization because you may be unconcious or incapacitated. For this reason your estate plan should also contain an authorization that complies with the requiresments of HIPAA. If you have had your directives created over the last several years they may already contain a universal HIPAA authorization. But if your estate plan was drafted prior to 2004 or if it does not include any of the documents discussed it would be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a competent estate planning attorney to review your directives.