When it comes to estate planning, it's always best to plan for the unexpected – especially if you have a surgical procedure taking place in the near future. All surgeries come with a certain amount of risk – which is why it's crucial to get your estate planning documents in order before going under the knife.
Below, we've outlined several key legal documents to have in place before your surgery, as well as some tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your procedure.
What Legal Documents Should You Have Before Surgery?
There are several legal documents to have in place before any surgery, including:
Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
A HCPOA is a legal document that allows someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. The person specified in your HCPOA is known as your healthcare proxy or agent.
Having a HCPOA in place enables people you trust to communicate with your doctors on your behalf during a surgical procedure.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when drafting your HCPOA document:
- If you have co-agents on your HCPOA, you may want to grant them authority to act separately in case your doctors can't reach one of them, and a health care decision needs to be made quickly.
- Be sure to bring your HCPOA document to the health care institution where your procedure is taking place – so that it's available when needed.
- Without a HCPOA, hospital administrators may need to locate your nearest relatives to make decisions on your behalf. This may delay your care and put decision-making authority in the hands of people you would not want to have this authority.
Your Living Will
A living will allows you to leave detailed instructions concerning your medical treatment – particularly regarding life-saving measures.
Many people don't want to burden their loved ones with the difficult decision of withdrawing life support – which is why many choose to document their wishes ahead of time through a living will.
Your medical team will likely ask if you have a living will before your surgery – so it's best to bring a copy of the document to the hospital with you.
Last Will & Testament
While a living will provides instructions for your medical treatment while you're still alive, the last will & testament allows you to specify your wishes after you're gone. It's critical to name an executor you trust to carry out the provisions in the will. Without a valid will in place when you die, your assets will be distributed according to the intestacy laws in your state.
A HIPAA authorization is a medical information release form that gives your medical providers, and loved ones access to information regarding your medical status. Filling out a HIPAA authorization before surgery ensures timely access to your medical information and makes coordinating your care a lot smoother.
Designate a Guardian for Your Children
If you have young children, it's essential to name a guardian as part of your estate planning process. Naming a guardian ensures your children will be cared for if anything happens to you. It's a good idea to have a conversation with the person you choose to ensure they are aware and name an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unable to fulfill their duties.
Gather Your Documents
Once you have your estate plan documents in place, ensure they are easily accessible. On the day of your surgery, you want to make sure you can locate them quickly and bring them with you. Be sure to store the documents in a safe place such as a fireproof safe or a digital vault.
Additionally, make sure at least one person knows where to find your documents at all times. You can also consider giving copies to the people you've named in your estate plan.
Account Login Information
It's helpful to organize the login information for all of your accounts before going into surgery. If the unexpected happens, you don't want your loved ones to have to track down your username and passwords. Make a list and keep it in a fireproof safe or online password manager.
Pre-Surgery Estate Planning Tips
As you create your estate plan before your surgery, be prepared to answer questions such as:
- Who do you want to oversee the settling of your estate when you pass away?
- Do you want to leave any specific assets to people or charities?
- Who will share in the remainder of your estate?
- Can your heirs receive their inheritance in a lump sum, or should they receive it over time?
Let those you have appointed as your advocates know about the existence of your estate plan. Consider providing them with copies of your documents and having a conversation with them about your preferences related to healthcare and asset distribution. That way, when the time comes, they can exercise their discretion in a way that honors your wishes.
How To Create an Estate Plan
In the event of the unexpected, many people are comforted to know their estate legal affairs are in order before surgery. Using the traditional methods of estate planning would require you to have multiple appointments with lawyers, which can be time-consuming and expensive. To expedite the process, you can use an online estate planning tool to create the necessary documents, all in less than one day.
Final Thoughts on Pre-Surgery Estate Planning
Getting your legal documents in place before surgery will make it easier for your loved ones to manage any unexpected medical situations. Doing so will ensure your wishes regarding your medical care, wealth, and guardianship of your children are honored.