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Advanced Healthcare Directives: Making Your Healthcare Wishes Known

Jul 25, 2023 | Estate Planning

What would happen if you were suddenly thrust into a medical emergency that rendered  you incapable of making important medical decisions for yourself? In such situations, important judgments need to be made in a moment’s notice that will have a profound impact on you and your family. Under such unexpected and extreme circumstances, would your family know how to respond according to your wishes regarding medical care or potential long-term health outcomes? 

Advanced healthcare directives are the key to ensuring that your medical preferences are honored, even when you are unable to communicate them. These directives provide clear instructions to healthcare professionals regarding the care you desire or wish to refuse, empowering you to maintain control over your own medical decisions. But what exactly are advanced healthcare directives, and why are they so important? In this blog, we will explore the various types of advanced healthcare directives available, and how they can help you navigate complex medical situations should the need arise.

What Are Advanced Healthcare Directives?

Advanced healthcare directives, also known as advance directives or medical directives, are legal documents that allow individuals to express their healthcare preferences and provide instructions for medical treatment in the event they become unable to communicate their wishes. These directives assure that your healthcare decisions are respected and implemented according to your wishes, even if you are incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself. Without these directives, your loved ones may be left to make difficult decisions on your behalf, potentially causing confusion and conflict during an already troubling time. Having these directives in place can provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones, knowing that your healthcare wishes will be honored, regardless of the circumstances.

Types Of Advanced Healthcare Directives  

There are several types of advanced healthcare directives, each serving a specific purpose. It’s important to understand the differences between these directives to ensure that your wishes are accurately reflected in your legal documents.

  • Living Wills: A living will is a written document that outlines your preferences for medical treatment in specific situations. It typically addresses end-of-life care decisions, such as the use of life-sustaining measures, resuscitation, and artificial nutrition and hydration. Living wills are designed to guide healthcare professionals when you are unable to communicate your wishes.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: A durable power of attorney for healthcare, also known as a healthcare proxy or healthcare agent, is a legal document that appoints a trusted person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. This person should be someone you trust to make decisions that align with your values and preferences. 
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders: A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order is a medical order that instructs healthcare professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event your heart stops or you stop breathing. DNR orders are typically used in situations where the potential benefits of CPR are unlikely to outweigh the potential harms or when CPR is inconsistent with your wishes.
  • Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): POLST forms serve as medical orders that provide instructions for emergency medical responders and healthcare professionals regarding your preferences for life-sustaining treatment. POLST forms are often used for individuals with serious or terminal illnesses and are designed to ensure continuity of care across different healthcare settings.

Legal Considerations For Advanced Healthcare Directives 

When creating advanced healthcare directives, it is important to make sure that your documents are legally valid and enforceable. While the specific requirements may vary depending on your jurisdiction, there are some general considerations to keep in mind:

  • Legal Capacity: You must have legal capacity, meaning you must be of sound mind and capable of understanding the decisions you are making. It is important to create your advanced healthcare directives while you are still capable of making informed decisions for yourself.
  • Witnesses: In many jurisdictions, advanced healthcare directives require witnesses to validate the documents. The number of witnesses and their qualifications may vary, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements in your area.
  • Notarization: Some jurisdictions may require notarization of advanced healthcare directives for them to be legally valid. Notarization involves having a notary public witness the signing of the document and verify your identity.

It’s crucial to consult with an attorney or legal professional with a background in healthcare law to ensure that your advanced healthcare directives comply with the legal requirements in your jurisdiction.

How To Create An Advanced Healthcare Directive

Creating advanced healthcare directives involves several important steps to ensure that your wishes are accurately documented and legally valid. Here are some key steps to consider:

  • Consult with an attorney: While it is possible to create advanced healthcare directives without legal assistance, consulting with an attorney who specializes in healthcare law can provide valuable guidance and ensure that your documents meet all legal requirements.
  • Choose a healthcare proxy: If you decide to create a durable power of attorney for healthcare, carefully choose a trusted person to act as your healthcare proxy. Discuss your wishes and values with them to ensure they are fully informed and prepared to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Discuss your healthcare wishes with loved ones:

It is important to have open and honest conversations with your loved ones about your healthcare wishes. These discussions can provide clarity, ensure that your loved ones understand your preferences, and help alleviate any potential conflicts that may arise during critical medical situations.

Updating And Revising Your Advanced Healthcare Directive

As your circumstances, preferences, and medical conditions may change over time, it is important to regularly review and update your advanced healthcare directives. Life events such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child may warrant revisions to ensure that your documents accurately reflect your current wishes.

Review your advanced healthcare directives at least every few years and after any significant life changes. Consult with your attorney to ensure that any updates or revisions comply with the legal requirements in your jurisdiction. Additionally, inform your healthcare proxy and loved ones of any changes to your documents, ensuring that they have the most up-to-date version.

Call Elder Law, P.A. For A Free Consultation

Advanced Healthcare Directives are an essential part of your comprehensive estate plan, but by no means is it the only element that needs to be considered in deciding how and to whom your assets will be distributed in the event of your death, or who will make critical decisions when the time comes. There are some decisions that should be made in “advance”, and preferably as soon as possible. The advice of an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney can help you set up your family for financial stability, giving you and your family peace of mind. Get started today by contacting our lead attorney, Ryan Jay Smollar for a free consultation.

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