Every senior should have five documents in his or her estate plan. For financial concerns, A Will and a Durable Power of Attorney are a must (last article). For health concerns, a Health Care Proxy, Living Will and HIPPA agreement are necessary.
A Health Care Proxy is a document that appoints an agent to act on your behalf should you be physically and/or mentally incapable of doing so. Without such a document appointing an agent (and usually an alternate), your friends and/or family would be forced to go to Probate Court to get a Guardianship for you, a time consuming, expensive and nerve-racking experience. With a valid Health Care Proxy, the agent should be able to act on your behalf without having to pursue a Guardianship.
A Living Will, a companion document to a Health Care Proxy, is a direct statement from you yourself, stating if you should be on life sustaining equipment, in a vegetative, comatose state, with no chance of recovery, that you would not want to be kept alive by mechanical means in those circumstances. Although a Health Care Proxy appoints an agent to make this decision, the agent (or the medical institution) is under no legal obligation to make the decision you want. A Living Will helps insure that your agent (and the medical institution) will follow your wishes.
A HIPPA release agreement is a relatively new document (2003) which evolved in response to privacy of health records legislation. Such agreement insures that your health care agent has access to your medical records if needed. Without such a document, a medical institution will often not give your agent your records for fear of violating privacy laws.