Dear Abby:

In a recent column I noted the comments of a reader and your response concerning the need to have a will and a living will. As an elder law attorney, I feel strongly that my clients should have two additional documents in place: a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney.

I have, in my practice of the last 25 years, concluded that the single most important document a client can have is a durable power of attorney. Many of the issues that were raised in your reader's letter could be addressed if someone had a power of attorney. This document, like the others, can be as broad or as narrow as the individual giving the power of attorney wishes. It is not a relinquishing of authority, but rather a granting of parallel authority, and can easily be revoked.

In a similar fashion, a health care proxy provides the opportunity for someone to interact with health care providers should the incapacitated individual be unable to make his/her own decisions.

Lawrence S. Graham, Greenville, N.C.

Thank you for educating my readers -- and me -- about these important documents. Read on:

Dear Abby:

Please remind your readers that a living will is not only very important, but a person should also carry a copy while traveling. My husband and I have "prepacked" copies of our living wills in our suitcase so they are always available. Imagine being thousands of miles from home when a crisis arises and those important documents are desperately needed.

Anne M., Alexandria

That's an interesting idea. It never hurts to be prepared.

Dear Abby:

I read with interest your response to the gentleman who was trying to convince family and friends to complete a living will before they need one. As a nurse for many years, I concur wholeheartedly. No one wakes up in the morning planning to have an accident, or a heart attack, or some other life-threatening condition. Too many times, doctors and nurses are faced with a family divided on what they "think" our patient would want -- or not want. Combine this with the shock and grief these people are experiencing, and the situation becomes volatile.

Former Surgical Nurse, Virginia Beach

Thank you for speaking from the perspective of someone who has been in the trenches and seen it firsthand.

Dear Abby:

I just finished reading your comments to "Concerned Friend." They come on the heels of my recent experience of the last two weeks. My apparently healthy husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer three weeks ago. I have spent a harrowing 10 days trying to get all the necessary documents drafted and finalized. I needed the services of an attorney to make sure all the paperwork was done correctly.

I have also discovered that our finances are a mess. This was always my husband's job, and I trusted what he said. He had been feeling tired in the last few months, but assured me that he had taken care of all the bills. Well, he hadn't. Fixing this is another nightmare yet to come.

My advice to your readers: Listen to Dear Abby.

By the way, my husband is only 56. We never thought things would be this way.

Grieving in Sacramento, Calif.

When I called you to discuss your letter, I was shocked to learn that your husband had already died. Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. If your experience doesn't galvanize people to action, nothing will.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate