The goal of successful estate planning to ensure the greatest amount of estate passes to the estate owners’ beneficiaries. The goal is to pay the least amount of taxes and minimize any involvement by the probate court. Other goals include planning for the guardians of minors and incapacity.
There are a few tools that most people use in estate planning including the will, various trusts, powers of appointment, forms of property ownership, gifting, and power of attorney. After the extensive media coverage and litigation cases surrounding the Terri Schiavo case, most estate planning attorneys advise creating living wills. Many people including many attorneys still often confuse living wills with durable medical power of attorney. A living will controls decisions made at the end of a patient’s life. A durable power of attorney on the other hand, is used to give decision-making authority to someone else. Someone with the durable power of attorney rights, makes all the medical decisions leading up to the person’s death but does not have power to make end of life decisions regarding the person. If the patient has written a living will, those end of life decisions will be made by the patient.
A living will usually specifies directives for the treatment of the patient. The directive also contain instructions on what to do with analgesia, hydration, feeding, and use of ventilators. A certain times, specifications will be made to forbid treatment and sometimes food and water. Many states do not formally recognize living wills. In California, for example uses Advanced Health Care Directives instead of living will.