Estate planning in Colorado: Understanding advance directives

Advance directives are an important aspect of estate planning, which allow people to specify their wishes with regards to health care treatment.

Often, Coloradoans and others think they do not need an estate plan if they do not have sizeable estates. However, there is more to an estate plan than just a will that stipulates how their assets should be divided in the event of their passing. Drawing up advance directives is an essential step for people of any means and age. These legal documents afford them the ability to specify their wishes should they become unable to care or speak for themselves.

When creating an estate plan, there are three primary types of advance directives that people should include - a health care proxy, living will and CPR directive. People may better prepare for the unexpected or inevitable by understanding these documents and how they are used.

What is a health care proxy?

Due to an auto accident, unexpected health condition or for any other number of reasons, even the healthiest people may become mentally or physically incapacitated. In such situations, it may be useful for them to have a health care proxy in place. Commonly referred to as a medical durable power of attorney, a health care proxy is used to appoint someone to act as the creator's personal representative. This document affords the named personal representatives the ability to consult with people's health care providers, to make decisions about their treatment and placement, and to obtain and review copies of their medical records.

What is a living will?

When people suffer life-threatening illnesses or injuries, health care professionals may use a range of treatments, such as breathing machines, tube feeding, dialysis and resuscitation. Also known as medical directives, living wills are legal documents people may employ to specify their desires with regards to such treatments. Through a living will, patients may indicate whether they wish to receive certain medical treatments. Additionally, they specify whether they would like to donate their organs or tissues. When creating a living will, people should keep in mind that these legal documents do not go into effect unless their disease or condition is terminal.

What is a CPR directive?

A number of methods, including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, the use of various procedures or devices, and the administration of special drugs, may be used when people stop breathing or their hearts stop beating. Health care providers generally assume their patients consent to receiving such treatments. Some people, however, may not want to receive cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, for any number of reasons. Through a CPR directive, they can indicate that they do not want to have this resuscitation method used on them. Further, it ensures that medical professionals comply with their wishes.

Planning for the unexpected

People in Colorado and elsewhere often put off creating an estate plan, including drawing up advance directives, thinking that their loved ones will take care of them should the worst happen. Unfortunately, once they cannot speak or care for themselves, there is no way to guarantee that their wishes will be followed. Thus, it may be of benefit for people of all ages and health conditions to consult with an attorney. A legal representative may explain their options and help them draw up the appropriate documents.