When planning for the future, it’s common to think of what you’ll do with your estate and assets. However, there is more to consider than just your financial situation. You have to take into account your health and well-being, too. That’s where advance medical directives come in. By drafting one, you can ensure you and your body are well taken care of even when you can’t. There are two common ways to employ a medical directive: a living will and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders. A financial advisor can help you sort through the pros and cons of both options and financially prepare your assets for the event where you actually need to use them.
A Living Will Explained
A living will is a legal document that dictates your personally approved medical decisions for future, long-term and end-of-life care. It records your wishes as instructions for your doctors to follow in case you can’t communicate them. So, this only comes into play when you’re incapacitated. That can result from a degenerative disease you may have, such as Alzheimer’s, which is terminal. Or, it could be necessary in case you suffer severe brain trauma. Either way, living will preserve your wishes for how you want to handle those scenarios.
Often, a person will use the document to approve or disapprove of life-sustaining procedures. This can include measures like breathing tubes, medication intake and dialysis. You draft the living will while you’re still sound of mind and body. As long as you’re mentally fit, you can change or revoke the document at any time.
However, they’re often made in combination with a power of attorney for healthcare. This is an individual who you choose to make medical-related decisions on your behalf. If you want to change your living will, you should inform your POA for healthcare.
Do-Not-Resuscitate Order Explained
Although you may see a DNR floating in the same conversations as a living will, they are not the same. A DNR is essentially a medical document that tells your doctors what to do if your heart or breathing stops. In this case, it asks the medical professionals not to revive you using cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A DNR is usually only for the chronically ill, frail and elderly. This is because of two main reasons.
The first is that resuscitation can be physically traumatic and even lead to broken ribs or punctured lungs – damage that is difficult for certain groups. The second reason is that resuscitation may require medical intervention the patient otherwise did not want. Moreover, a natural death can be easier to accept.
Key Differences of Living Wills and DNRs
It’s vital to know the difference between a living will and a DNR as you do your estate planning. This is even more important for aging and ill individuals or those considering their estate plans.
So, to review, a living will and a DNR are two different documents. The former is a legal document, while the latter is a medical one. Their main similarity is that they both provide instructions for your doctors and loved ones to follow when you can’t properly communicate.
A living will provides an outline of medical procedures that you either do or do not want. Also, it usually involves life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life care, which is more complex than a DNR. In contrast, a DNR focuses on a single medical procedure and typically does not require a living will, although a DNR can be included in the other.
Do You Need a Living Will or a DNR?
If all you want or require is a DNR or a do-not-intubate (DNI), you only need a DNR. You do not have to pursue a living will as well. However, if you have certain pre-existing conditions or have complicated desires for your future medical care, a living will is valuable insurance. It will protect your wishes when you are not in a position to do so. On top of that, a living will can support spiritual, religious or otherwise personal medical decisions as well.
The Bottom Line
While estate planning comes with its difficulties, it’s better to face it head-on. When you decide if you need a DNR or living will, you take a weight off of your and your family’s shoulders. Since medical and end-of-life care is so personal, you avoid family stress and upset by making the decision ahead of time. If you think either option might be right for you, discuss your choices with your family and doctor. Keep in mind that another option is what’s called a medical order for life-sustaining treatment (MOLST). You can also speak with an estate planning attorney to discuss your living will options.
Tips for Estate Planning
- Consider working with a financial advisor as you do your estate planning to best protect your interests. They can help you set up your entire estate plan and help you financially prepare your assets for when you die. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Income in America is taxed by the federal government, most state governments and many local governments. The federal income tax system is progressive, so the rate of taxation increases as income increases. A federal income tax calculator can give you a quick read on what you owe Uncle Sam.
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