Advance care directives provide an opportunity to participate ahead of time in making medical decisions in potentially life-ending circumstances.
We all have the right to participate in our own health care decisions. If you are well enough, you should be able to choose whether or not you have a Home doctor or are treated in a hospital. You should have a say in your medical decisions. But there are times such as a serious accident or sudden illness when this is not possible.
Advance care directives are documents providing the opportunity to make choices ahead of time in case you become unable to participate in health care decisions.
Two important legal documents include the health care proxy and the living will.
Health Care Proxy – Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A healthcare proxy allows the individual to appoint a trusted person as healthcare agent to make key decisions in potentially life ending matters. The document is also called a ‘Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care’ in New Hampshire. Whatever the name, this document grants authority to another person to make medical decisions on behalf of the person signing the document.
People sometimes express fear that the health care proxy might allow someone else to rush in and start making decisions. But the laws underlying these documents generally require that physicians make key determinations before allowing the health care proxy or agent to kick in. Such laws usually require that there be a terminal illness or permanent state of unconsciousness, and that two physicians make the determination.
A living will is a document in which the individual expresses the type of health care they want to receive if they become incapacitated and cannot speak for themselves. A living will is not your will, which is the document used to dispose of money and other property.
Living wills instruct that certain types of care be given or withheld, such as hydration, nutrition and other life prolonging medical care. In most states these decisions in both the health care proxy and the living will are clearly spelled out with the person signing the form making clear elections as to each type of care.
Some states like Massachusetts have no law officially recognizing living wills. But individuals still possess the right under federal law to participate in medical care. So, attorneys often spell out the client’s wishes for treatment and health care instructions on a form sometimes called a health care declaration, health care directive or personal wishes statement.
Advance Care Directives in Correct Format
Advance Care Directives might be the most important estate planning documents you ever make. Giving family and close friends clear written instructions in the correct legal form can spare unnecessary anguish in an extremely difficult time and ensure you get the care that you have thought about ahead of time.
Each state has its own law regarding advance care directives.
With advance care directives you specify what treatment you want and what you do not want, and you name someone with legal authority to honor those wishes. Without such documents family and medical providers can descend into uncertainty over important medical decisions. Such disagreements can present harsh consequences.
Advance care directives provide an essential part of overall estate planning. In another article we’ve summarized other documents to think about.