As your parents age, some conversations that need to happen can prove to be rather difficult. It is understandable that you would want to skip over these but doing so can be disastrous down the road. Instead of putting this off, take the time to discuss these matters now so that you know the plans when the time comes.

One important thing to talk about is what sort of end-of-life care your parents want. There are two important documents that can ensure that your parent’s wishes will be followed. One is an Advance Directive to Physicians, sometimes called a living will, and the other is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, sometimes called a Health Care Proxy.

Purpose of these documents

Each parent should have their own Advance Directive to Physicians or living will. This enables them to outline their wishes for medical care at end of life. It should provide information about what treatments they want to receive and which ones they don’t. They need to think about things like cardiopulmonary resuscitation, intravenous nutrition and hydration, ventilator assistance, pain medication, and palliative care. The more information they can provide, the more likely they are to receive the care that they want.

The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions authorizes a designated agent to have access to medical information, to exchange information with health care providers, and to make decisions about medical treatment, housing, or personal care in the event the principal is temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

When the documents come into effect

The Advance Directive expresses what the principal wants if he or she is diagnosed to be in a terminal condition or a permanent unconscious condition where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the dying process.

The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions is effective at any time when, in the opinion of the agent or the health care provider, the principal cannot understand a decision and give informed consent or is unable to communicate the decision. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions does not take away the principal’s right to make his or her own health care decisions.

It is important to name a primary agent and at least one alternate. Life is unpredictable, and in the future, if the primary agent becomes unable to serve, the principal may no longer have the capacity to execute a new Durable Power of Attorney.

These documents are only part of what your parents need to think about when they are creating an estate plan. Discussing and implementing a comprehensive estate plan can benefit your parents and all their loved ones.