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When many Americans sit down to tackle their estate planning, most cover the bases fairly thoroughly. A will is written, detailing who will receive which of our belongings and how our assets are to be divided. Our wishes for funeral arrangements are laid out, ensuring that our loved ones will not be burdened with making those decisions at a time of grief.

However, there is one aspect of estate planning that is almost universally overlooked, and it is one that may be the most important decision that an individual will ever make. Creating a living will, or health care power of attorney, is a step that all Maryland residents should carefully consider.

A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that designates the type of medical treatment that you wish to receive in the event that you are incapacitated by illness or injury. It outlines what forms of medical treatment you wish to have provided, but more importantly it states which treatment you want withheld. This becomes important in the event that you become so ill that you have no chance of recovery, but can still be kept alive by medical technology. In other words, when you can no longer live without the assistance of machines, what do you want done?

As with most estate planning topics, this should be discussed with your close family members so that they are aware of your wishes in advance. If you should ever need them to coordinate your care with medical professionals, they will be able to advocate for you, according to your wishes. You should also designate one individual to carry out your instructions, and let your family know of your decision.

As for the paperwork involved, there are sections within a living will that concern the administration of nutrition and water, placement within a health care facility, the ability to contract legal services and grant release for treatment. Additional provisions can always be included, should you decide there is a need to do so. Creating a durable power of attorney for health care in Maryland is a relatively simple process, and should be included within your other estate planning duties.

Source: The Missourian, "Common Estate Planning Mistakes: Failure to Have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care," Walter A. Murray Jr., July 6, 2012

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