The importance of a living will increases as your parents age

Even for those with the longest potential life spans, aging takes its toll over time. Skin sags, muscles shrink and minds begin to atrophy. For many people, aging is a gradual process over many years. However, for some people, aging can suddenly leap forward without warning. Strokes, seizures, blood clots and heart attacks could all suddenly turn someone older but robust into someone struggling.

As the symptoms of aging increase, your family will eventually need to turn to the living will put in place by your parents. The documents included in a living will enable your family to make decisions about medical care and finances based on your parents' wishes and with their authority.

Living wills let you address financial needs for your parents

Typically, a living will includes a limited power of attorney document assigning financial authority to one or more people. In the event that your parents are alive but can no longer make decisions for themselves, that authority will help protect them.

You can ensure that their financial obligations get covered and that no one takes advantage of your parents during cognitive decline. A financial power of attorney can allow you to manage all the necessary practical concerns for your living parents who cannot care for themselves.

Medical wishes and directives also belong in a living will

A living will also provides a place to express medical wishes and empower someone to make medical decisions. Your parents should assign someone younger (ideally not a spouse) to make medical decisions if they end up unable to do so on their own behalf. Those decisions could include whether or not to perform surgery, preferences about resuscitation and even life support.

A power of attorney document can authorize someone else to make those important medical decisions, while advance directives can provide direct guidance for medical decisions. Creating an advance directive is particularly smart in situations that involve degenerative conditions, like Alzheimer's disease. Having your parents put their wishes in writing ensures there is no confusion or potential to forget their wishes during stressful times.

Do you know if your parents have a living will?

Even if your parents already have an estate plan and last will in place, they may not have a living will, which is also very important. Talk with your parents about whether their estate plan includes necessary power of attorney documents and advance medical directives.

The sooner you address these issues, the better peace of mind you'll all have. Your parents will know that there's a record of their wishes, and you will know how to handle each situation that arises as your parents continue to age.

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