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Two tools for protecting yourself in an emergency

No one wants to spend time thinking about the bad things that could happen to them. But, it's even worse to be caught unprepared. Sudden illnesses and accidents can happen to anyone, and it is important to take steps to protect yourself and your family.

You want to make sure that you wishes are carried out and your financial interests are protected if you were to ever become incapacitated. There are two tools everyone should have in place: an advance health care directive to ensure your health care will proceed according to your wishes, and a power of attorney that enables someone you trust to make decisions for you that you may be unable to make yourself.

Advance Directives

Simply put, advance directives are your plans for your own health care set out in writing before you need them. You may never need them, but if you end up in a life-threatening or incapacitating situation due to injury, accident or illness, you may be unable to speak for yourself.

Advance directives are legally binding documents that specify the kind of health care you want to receive, and to what extent, when you are unable to convey your own wishes.

It can be difficult for family members to make these decisions. They may be worried about seeing you suffer or making a decision you would disagree with. They might have different beliefs and therefore might not make the same decisions you would. Having an advance directive saves family members from having to guess what you would want and protects your own wishes regarding your health care.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney enables another responsible adult, your "agent", to make decisions or sign documents on your behalf. Knowing you have a trusted agent who is able to act on your behalf regarding important matters ensures that your desires will be met when you are unable to speak for yourself.

Powers of attorney can be written to address end-of-life or other medical situations, or financial matters. For example, your agent can be empowered to pay your bills and your mortgage, access your financial accounts or get you moved into a nursing home.

An attorney can help you decide under what circumstances your agent can speak or act for you, including physical or mental decline, coma or other incapacitation, or an unwillingness on your part.

The stakes are high, get experienced help 

Texas law establishes strict criteria for what constitutes a valid advance directive or power of attorney. You want to be sure that these tools are created correctly, so that there is no question about their validity or confusion as to their meaning if they ever need to be used.

The best way to do this is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Together, you and your lawyer can create a plan that accurately expresses your desires and protects you and your family from harm.

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