When you think about estate planning, you might think primarily about wills and trusts that distribute your property and provide for the needs of your loved ones after you pass away. Though you are right to concern yourself with the needs of your family following your death, your estate plan should also provide for your own needs.

There may come a time when you are unable to give informed consent to end-of-life health care treatment. Also called an advance directive, a living will informs both medical staff and family members of the treatments you do and do not want to receive.

Why do you need a living will?

A living will takes effect if you are no longer able to make health care decisions for yourself due to mental incapacitation. This can happen for many reasons. A neurodegenerative disease could destroy your reasoning faculties. A traumatic brain injury could leave you permanently unconscious.

Whatever the reason, incapacitation could strike at any time. As U.S. News and World Report points out, a living will spares your family members the trauma of trying to make difficult decisions on your behalf.

What happens if you also have a health care power of attorney?

A health care power of attorney gives a person of your choosing authority to act as your proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf. However, your designated agent does not have the authority to override your living will and must abide by your expressed wishes the same as your health care providers do.

Because it is difficult to foresee what may happen to you before you die, it may be a good idea to express your wishes in a living will while also designating an agent with a power of attorney to make decisions should a situation arise that you did not anticipate in your advance directive.