Estate planning is not just about writing a will and deciding who will inherit what. It is also about ensuring you are cared for in ways with which you are comfortable. Yet this aspect is often overlooked or neglected.

As a result, most people are missing an indispensable planning tool: an advance directive.

What is an advance directive?

At its core, an advance directive is a set of instructions informing your loved ones and medical professionals what kind of care you would (or would not) like. These documents can speak for you in the event you’re unable to communicate wishes yourself.

Without an advance directive, everyone may be stuck trying to guess what you might have wanted. At worst, this can lead to added stress and arguments during an already trying period.

Most people want to avoid this. Yet according to a 2017 study, only 36% of U.S. adults actually have an advance directive in place. Individuals with a chronic illness were only slightly more likely than healthy adults to have done so.

This means most people simply haven’t taken the time to set up this important legal tool.

What forms are included in an advance directive?

There are a few different forms that can be part of an advance directive, including:

  • Durable health care power of attorney – You select a trusted individual to be your agent, allowing them to make certain health care decisions if you become incapacitated
  • Living will – Explains what type of treatments you would like in the event you are in a persistent vegetative state or in an irreversible coma
  • Durable mental health care power of attorney – Names an agent to make mental health-related decisions on your behalf, such as which medications to use or whether to explore a structured treatment setting

With the right combination of legal documents, all properly authorized, you can ensure your wishes are honored while preventing disagreements that might disrupt an otherwise agreeable family situation.