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How an estate plan can give you control over your health care

Many Californians resist putting an estate plan in place. Even when people get older and their health starts to deteriorate, they may feel like planning for their death is tempting fate.

However, an estate plan isn't just about designating what will happen to our assets after we're gone. Many estate planning documents are designed to let people make their wishes known about what kind of health care they want if they are unable to speak for themselves. They ensure that trusted people will have the necessary authority to handle their finances and manage their medical treatment if they can't do it.

Here in California, you can use an advance health care directive to designate your wishes for end-of-life care and what kind of life-sustaining measures you want used (or not) under various circumstances. An advance health care directive may even allow you to avoid having a conservatorship.

You can also choose someone to give power of attorney (POA) over financial matters and health care. This may be the same person, or you may choose two different people to have these authorities.

If you're going to be moving into an assisted living community, you should already have these documents in place. Some assisted living providers require that their residents have them before they move in. Even if you're fully competent and have all of your wits about you, that can change in seconds with a fall or a stroke. Assisted living providers need to know who will be making decisions on your behalf when you can't.

No two estate plans look alike. By discussing your individual situation, your wishes and goals with an experienced attorney, you can put an estate plan in place that will fit your needs and provide you with peace of mind that your wishes will be known and respected.

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