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An estate plan isn't complete without a health care directive

Although addressing one's mortality through estate planning could be uncomfortable, it is important for anyone who wants control over what happens to their body as well as their assets immediately before and after their death. Most people know they need a will and possibly a trust to provide guidance about their assets but many Virginians don't understand the importance of a health care directive.

A health care directive not only gives guidance on end-of-life care, but it may also provide instructions for how a person wants their body to be handled after their death. Death of a loved one, especially when it's unexpected, could be emotional for many people. Planning in advance provides family members and friends with some relief, knowing they won't have to make these decisions themselves.

Someone who wishes to be cremated or donate their organs could provide that information in their health care directive to ensure their wishes are carried out. It's important to list an agent who will take steps to make sure those directions are followed by the appropriate people. A discussion with the agent is imperative to ensure they understand what will be expected of them.

Married people typically give their spouse agent responsibilities but a contingent agent should be included as well. Everyone should review their estate planning documents annually to ensure the people listed as beneficiaries, guardians, and agents are still relevant. If a spouse or other beneficiary dies, the estate plan should be updated immediately to avoid complications when it's time to execute the plan.

A health care directive may make it easier for family members to make decisions when their loved one is incapacitated. It could also be valuable to someone without any close family members. An estate planning attorney might assist a client with drafting this important document to outline exactly how they would like to be cared for before, during and after their death.

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