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Virginia advance directives: An important part of an estate plan

Completing an advance health care directive provides guidance to loved ones and can avoid bitter arguments about what you would have wanted.

Many only think of wills and trusts when the topic of estate planning comes up. A comprehensive estate plan also needs to include an advance health care directive and durable power of attorney. Only 25 to 30 percent of Americans have these important documents in place, according to a recent Institute of Medicine report.

Many families across the country face the decisions about life support each day.

Living will and power of attorney

A Virginia advance directive includes two main documents. A durable power of attorney for health care designates an individual who will make treatment decisions when you are no longer able to make them yourself.

The living will details treatment you would not want to receive in certain situations. Sometimes this may also include a do not resuscitate request.

Having a plan in place provides guidance to family at an emotionally taxing time. It also avoids arguments between family members regarding what you might have wanted.

Basic requirements

The person named in the documents is referred to as your agent in Virginia. This person is often a spouse, but could be another relative or close friend who you trust to ask the right questions and make tough decisions.

As a technical matter, the agent must be over the age of 18. When an agent resides outside of the state, he or she must be able and willing to travel to the hospital to make decisions on your behalf.

Updating these forms after a major life even is very important. Following a divorce, you will need to revisit these forms as well as other parts of your estate plan, such as beneficiary designations, to ensure that it is not an ex-spouse still listed on these sensitive decisions.

Whether your family is growing with the addition of a little one or a spouse has recently passed away, it is important to review and update your estate plan. Do not overlook the importance of an advance directive, which will provide a roadmap for loved ones based on your wishes.

Keywords: Estate planning, living will

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