Advance Directives

Concerning Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney

Advance Directives

Planning for tough health care decisions is something people tend to put off until they’re faced with a serious illness. Thinking about whether you would want to be on a respirator or what kind of treatment a critically ill parent or spouse would prefer may be difficult to consider in advance. Broaching the subject with your family now will help you have more control over your health care management later. By using advance directives, you outline your preferences for medical treatment and designate a decision-maker should you lose the capacity to choose your treatment options.

Living Wills

A living will is an advance directive that tells heath care providers how much intervention or treatment is desired if a condition is terminal and you’re unable to communicate. For example, it may direct the physician to discontinue life-sustaining procedures if you’re in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious. Many people execute living wills so that family members aren’t put in the position of having to decide whether to terminate or continue life-sustaining treatment when there’s no chance of recovery. You may want to address specific terminal conditions or illnesses, vegetative states, and types of treatment you want withheld (such as tube feeding, artificial nutrition, and hydration). Some states have specific legal formats to follow to specify the medical intervention and treatment that you would like. In California, for example, the legally recognized format is called the Advance Health Care Directive. Be sure to consult an attorney to get more information on your state’s requirements.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

In addition to expressing your preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment, consider designating someone to make decisions for you if you’re unable to do so. For example, if major surgery is proposed and you’re too ill to make your feelings known, your surrogate would invoke the power of attorney to facilitate your wishes. The person you appoint may be called your surrogate, attorney-in-fact, proxy, or health care agent. State laws differ regarding the power of attorney for health care, so make certain that you seek the advice of a counseling-oriented attorney. Due to the number of available options and the personal nature of the decisions, pre-printed forms usually will need to be customized.

Remember, advance directives don’t override your own decision-making ability, so long as you’re able to express your own decisions. But these documents give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing your wishes will be carried out.