An advance healthcare directive will help you in case a medical crisis leaves you incapacitated. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, this helps ensure that your preferences are respected.
- Living Will: a document that describes your preferences for health care treatment
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: also known as Medical Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Designation of Health Care Surrogate, or Health Care Proxy, this document names the person you’ve chosen to make health care decisions for you
- Advance Directive: a document that combines a Living Will and Power of Attorney for Healthcare
Tip: Check your state or local hospital websites to ensure the documents you create are in compliance your state’s laws!
About A Living Will
A Living Will is a binding legal document. Simply telling someone what you want, or even writing it down yourself, will not be in compliance with law, no matter where you live.
Only a licensed physician can determine if you’re permanently unconscious and unable to make your own decisions. A second doctor then must agree before your Living Will can be put into effect. If you’re conscious and aware, your Living Will cannot and will not go into effect.
A Living Will is not just about “pulling the plug.” It clearly states your preferences for treatment, care and comfort, in addition to your life-sustaining decisions. These include:
- CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR)
- Ventilator use for breathing
- Artificial nutrition (feeding tube)
- Artificial hydration (IV or intravenous fluids)
- End-of-life comfort care
Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care
Since the person you choose will have the power to make life and death decisions for your care, it’s important to consider a number of factors. Do they live near you or can they easily travel to be with you in an emergency? In a medical crisis, will they be able to handle any conflicting opinions of your family members or your medical doctors? Most importantly – do you trust them with your life?
You can select anyone age 18 or older to make your medical decisions, except for your healthcare provider or your nursing home, hospice care, or residential care providers. Employees of these providers are also exempt unless they are family members.
In addition to naming a representative, you can also name successors, or alternate representatives, if your first choice is unable or unwilling to fulfill their role. Keep in mind, if you choose your spouse and then later divorce, you’ll need to name another representative unless you specifically state you want to extend an ex-spouse’s power of attorney for medical decisions.
Most versions of a Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care include a section where you can add additional instructions for your representative or place limitations on their decision-making authority.
Tip: You don’t need to hire a lawyer to prepare this document but it will need to be signed by you and two qualified witnesses. It’s also a good idea to have it notarized.
A Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care does not give your representative the power to make financial decisions for you. In fact, legal experts agree it’s best to choose completely different representatives for your medical decisions, financial decisions, and to serve as executors of your estate.
What To Do After You Complete These Documents
Provide copies of your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney to your chosen representative, your health care providers, plus any hospital, outpatient surgery center, or other facility where you receive medical treatment. If you’re admitted to a nursing home or rehabilitation facility, provide them with copies to include with your medical chart.
Carry copies of these documents wherever you travel, too. You may want to consider providing copies to family members even if they have not been named as your representative. When they know your wishes in advance, it helps alleviate their stress should the unthinkable happen.
What To Do If You Change Your Mind
You can change or revoke your Living Will and Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care at any time. Simply destroying all copies of the documents is not enough. It’s better to indicate formally, in writing, that the previous documents have been revoked and that you have prepared new documents according to your state laws.
Then send this notice, and the new documents, to your health care providers, your most recently-chosen representative, and anyone else who had a copy of the revoked documents.
Tip: Remember – advance health care directives are not just for the elderly or terminally ill. Life-threatening tragedies can happen at any age.