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Correction to This Article
The Cash Flow column in the March 27 Business section used an incorrect acronym to refer to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It should have referred to the law as HIPAA.
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It Takes More Than a Living Will

Second, before choosing a family member as your agent, discuss your plans with all your close relatives. Find out if there are differing views or objections. You of course want to choose an agent who agrees with you, but if there are family members who disagree, try to make it clear to them why you have chosen as you have. Family members may find it easier to acquiesce in a painful decision if they understand that it reflects your wishes.

"For people with more than one child the decision becomes much harder," said attorney Rhonda J. Macdonald of Vienna. Sometimes "people will name three children and say they must consult with each other and agree unanimously. That's begging [for] a little bit of trouble."

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You don't want to create a situation in which the doctor is seeing one thing in your living will and hearing something else from your family. That's a recipe for having your living will disregarded despite legal requirements that it not be.

Also, most forms ask for a backup agent in case the primary one can't be contacted. Try to have as a backup someone who agrees with you and with the primary agent.

Third, living will forms allow you to make extensive modifications. You should discuss the form with your doctor -- so at a minimum he or she will know you have it -- and go over the treatments you'd want or not want, so you understand what you're specifying and you can make the guidance you leave as complete as possible.

An additional benefit of making these modifications, Cohn said, is the reassurance they provide to doctors and other health care providers that you've made a considered decision.

While medical directives can be executed without assistance of a lawyer, if you have family issues or a complicated situation, it's a good idea to consult an expert. And it's also wise to use this opportunity to clean up related estate-planning needs.

"I don't think in 20 years I've ever let anyone walk out of my office without four documents," Macdonald said -- a will, a revocable trust, durable power of attorney for financial matters and an advance medical directive.

And though most of those are normally associated with taxes and disposition of property, they make it much easier if you become incapacitated and need someone else to pay your bills and otherwise manage your affairs.

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