Using your estate plan to direct your end-of-life care

Here in Texas, as in the vast majority of states, it's illegal for anyone, including doctors, to help a person take their own life -- even if there's no hope of recovery, they're in considerable pain and the end is imminent. Whether it's called euthanasia, assisted suicide or mercy killing, Texas law prohibits "any act or omission other than to allow the natural process of dying."

However, that "natural process of dying" can be helped along by the removal of life support measures. Those can include anything from breathing apparatuses to intravenous feeding tubes. Doctors can end any kind of artificial measures that are being used to keep a person alive. However, they must have permission from the patient or a person authorized to make that decision.

Most people, when they get to that point, are unable to make their wishes known. They may be in a coma or otherwise completely unaware of what's going on. That's why it's wise to designate your wishes regarding life support while you're still able to do so and to name someone to make sure that those wishes are carried out as well as address other issues that might arise that you may not have considered.

An essential part of estate planning involves putting documents in place that address end-of-life care and health care decisions that you may not be able to make for yourself later. An adv+ance directive includes your wishes regarding things like under what circumstances you want doctors to consider using artificial means to prolong your life and when you want such measures discontinued. You should also name a health care proxy who will act as an advocate for your medical care if you're unable to.

These documents are never fun to draft. They involve thinking about under what conditions you want everything possible to be done to keep you alive and when you'd rather let nature take its course. However, by putting them in place, you can save family members the burden of trying to determine what you would want.

Too often, families end up in court battling over whether to continue to keep a loved one alive, and the decision ends up being made by a judge. An experienced Texas attorney can help you include all the necessary health care documents in your estate plan.