Before Surgery: Essential Estate Planning Tips

Before Surgery: Essential Estate Planning Tips

by Michelle Fabio, Esq., April 2015

As any doctor will tell you, going in for even minor surgery carries risks. If you are scheduled to go under the knife, now, before surgery, is the time to make sure you have some important legal documents in order. Here is a surgery checklist of legal documents you should prepare before surgery.

1. Make a Will

Having a last will and testament is generally a good idea, but it’s vital if you are having surgery done. If you die without a will, your state’s intestacy laws will govern who gets your property—and the results may not be what you would have liked.

Making a will doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to take very long either, especially if you have a relatively small estate and straightforward wishes regarding its distribution.

Before even turning to any forms, though, sit down and make a list of your assets and preferred beneficiaries, and also decide who you would like to serve as executor, the person who will be in charge of handling your estate after your death.

Be sure to discuss your wishes with your preferred executor to be sure he or she will agree to serve. Think about an alternate executor as well in case your first choice can’t be the executor for any reason.

2. Name Guardian for Minor Children

If you have minor children, you should also consider who you would like to be named their guardian; you can include this information in your will, too.

Remember you can have different people serve your children’s needs if you feel that one person is better suited for raising them while another is better suited to handle their inheritances and financial matters. As with the executor, it is a good idea to discuss your wishes with your guardian of choice and name an alternate guardian as well.

3. Decide on End of Life Planning

End of life planning can be some of the most stressful that family members ever have to face, but you can make it easier on your loved ones by drafting a few documents ahead of time to make your wishes known.

An advance directive allows you to express your wishes regarding medical decisions in the event that you are incapacitated and cannot communicate your preferences yourself. Advance directives help ensure you receive the care you want—and don’t receive the care you don’t want.

Although specific names of advance directives vary by state, a living will is one type; this may also be called a health care declaration or advance medical directive. Separate from a last will and testament, a living will can address issues such as the use of CPR, life support, and feeding tubes. It can also include instructions on organ donation.

4. Choose a Health Care Power of Attorney

Another type of advance directive is a health care power of attorney, which may also be called a medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney. This document allows you to name someone called a health care proxy, attorney-in-fact, health care agent, or health care surrogate to oversee your health care decisions should you be unable to do so, either permanently or temporarily.

Your power of attorney is obligated by law to follow your instructions regarding medical decisions.

5. Gather and Store Documents

Once you have drafted, signed, and executed all of the above documents, print out several copies and keep them in a safe place, such as a fireproof home safe. Make sure at least one person knows where they are and has access to them.

When you report for surgery, however, you should have your advanced directive, living will, and/or health care power of attorney in hand.

Final Thoughts on Pre-Surgery Prep

While there are obviously many physical and emotional considerations as you prepare for surgery, don’t forget about making sure your legal affairs are in order as well.

Doing a little legal document prep pre-surgery can help give you peace of mind as you enter the hospital for your procedure, and may even help your healing process after the fact. Talking to your loved ones about your wishes, contained in the documents, is also advisable so there won't be any confusion should the need arise to put them into action.

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