No one in Virginia really wants to think about their death, but it is a simple fact that one day we all will die. It may be of some comfort, then, to know that you can determine what kind of end-of-life care you want and who you want to act upon your behalf once you cannot do so on your own. This can be done through a health care directive and a living will.
In a health care directive (also known as a durable power of attorney), you can name the individual you want to execute your wishes regarding end-of-life medical care, should you be incapable of expressing those wishes yourself. When executing a health care directive, it is important to select both a primary surrogate and an alternate surrogate, should the primary surrogate be unable to perform their duties when the time comes.
Many people choose a relative or close friend to fulfill these roles. However, it is wise to ask these people first, to ensure they are comfortable being a surrogate. Without a health care directive, a surrogate will be selected per state law if you are incapacitated -- something that can cost a lot of time and money. Therefore, it is very important to execute a health care directive while you are still able to do so.
A living will complements a health care directive. A living will dictates what kind of medical intervention you do or do not want under certain circumstances, such as incapacitation. It only becomes effective once you are no longer able to communicate your wishes, for example, if you are in a coma. The living will serves as a guide for the surrogate named in a health care directive to follow to ensure your wishes are met.
Having a well-rounded estate plan that includes a health care directive and a living will allows you to address what medical care you want at the end of your life and who will make such decisions once you cannot. Most people would prefer to make these selections on their own, rather than leaving the decision up to the state. Fortunately, through estate planning it is possible to do that.