Important Medical Decisions: What Are Advance Directives?

Advance directives are critical medical decisions that allow you to communicate your wishes for end-of-life care. They can include a living will and a health care proxy. An advance directive allows you to communicate your wishes for medical care should you become unable to do so yourself.  By creating advance directives, you can ensure that your wishes are known and respected if you cannot make decisions for yourself.  

What Are Advance Directives, And What Do They Include?

Advance directives are legal documents that allow you to specify your preferences for medical care if you cannot communicate your decisions in the future. Advance directives can be essential to your overall estate planning and provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Having an advance directive is essential because it gives you a way to express your preferences for medical care ahead of time. It also helps to ensure that your wishes will be followed if you cannot communicate them in the future.

While advance directives are not required by law, they can be an important tool for ensuring that an individual's wishes are respected in the event of incapacity. In addition, advance directives can help to avoid conflict among family members or healthcare providers about the best course of treatment. For these reasons, advance directives can be a helpful way to plan for future medical care.

Types Of Advance Directives  

There are generally three common types of advance directives: living wills, durable powers of attorney, and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders.

Living Wills  

A living will is a document in which you state your wishes regarding medical treatment if you become unable to communicate them yourself. You can specify the types of treatment you would or would not want to receive, such as life-sustaining measures or artificial nutrition and hydration.  

It is important to remember that a living will only come into play if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state—that is, when death is close and cannot be avoided no matter what measures are taken or when you are not conscious and aware, and it is not expected that you will become conscious again.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney for health care (DPOA-HC) designates someone—known as your agent or proxy—to make decisions about your medical care if you cannot make them yourself.  

Unlike a living will, which only applies in particular circumstances, a DPOA-HC can be used anytime you cannot communicate your wishes. It becomes effective immediately upon execution (signing) and remains in effect until you revoke it or your agent dies or becomes incapacitated. You can also include instructions and limitations on your agent's authority in the DPOA-HC form.  

For example, you might limit your agent's authority to make decisions about specific types of treatment or only give them authority to make decisions if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Like a living will, a DPOA-HC allows you to express your preferences about life-sustaining measures, artificial nutrition, and hydration.  

Do-Not-Resuscitate Order (DNR)  

A do-not-resuscitate order means that the doctor should not try to revive you if your heart stops or you stop breathing. DNR orders must be signed by you and your physician and are typically only used in end-of-life situations.

Although a DNR can be issued at any time, it is often done as part of advance care planning, which is the process of making decisions about future medical care if a person becomes incapacitated. Advance care planning can be essential to ensure that a person's end-of-life wishes are respected.  

Why Is It Essential to Have an Advance Directive in Place?

While it is always essential to have a plan in place for medical care, advance directives become even more essential as we age and our health begins to decline. An advance directive can ensure that your loved ones can make decisions about your care according to your wishes.  

In addition, advance directives can help to avoid conflict among family members about what course of action should be taken. While no one likes to think about their mortality, making an advance directive is a crucial way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Eligibility Criteria for an Advance Directive  

In order for an Advance Directive to be valid, it must meet certain eligibility criteria:

The person creating the document must be at least 18 years of age and have a sound mind.

The document must be signed by the individual or by a witness in the presence of the individual.

The document must be dated.

The document must be either notarized or witnessed by two people who are not related to the individual.  

If an Advance Directive does not meet these criteria, it may still be honored by healthcare providers to express the individual's wishes, but it will not have the force of law. By understanding the eligibility criteria for an Advance Directive, you can ensure that your healthcare wishes will be respected if you cannot communicate them yourself.

How Do You Create an Advance Directive Document for Yourself or a Loved One?

You can create an advance directive document for yourself or a loved one by first contacting your state's medical board to request the form. Once you have the form, fill it out with your personal information and health care preferences. Be sure to sign and date the document and witness it by two other people.  

You should then keep the document in a safe place where it can be easily accessed, such as a file drawer or safe deposit box. You may also want to provide copies to your doctor, family, and close friends.  

Legal Implications Involving an Advance Directive  

Many individuals choose to create an advance directive to ensure that their wishes will be respected if they become incapacitated. However, there are some legal implications involved in creating an advance directive. First, it is essential to ensure that the document is properly witnessed and signed. Otherwise, it may not be legally binding.  

Additionally, the person you appoint as your decision-maker must be competent and willing to take on this responsibility. If they cannot act on your behalf, the court may appoint someone else. Finally, it is crucial to keep your advance directive up-to-date. As your health changes over time, your wishes may also change. By regularly reviewing and revising your advance directive, you can be sure that it accurately reflects your current desires.

The Difference Between DNR And Advance Directives  

DNR and advance directives are two terms often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two. A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order is a medical directive instructing first responders and medical personnel not to revive a person during a cardiac or respiratory arrest.  

While both DNR and advance directives can articulate a person's end-of-life wishes, advance directives are typically used to address a broader range of medical decisions. On the other hand, advance directives are more general in nature and can include things like living wills and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. As a result, they can be a helpful tool for people who want a say in their care, even if they cannot communicate their wishes at the time.

While thinking about our own mortality is never easy, it's important to have an advance directive in place in case of an unexpected accident or illness. Advance directives allow you to state your preferences for medical care ahead of time, ensuring that your wishes are carried out even if you are unable to communicate them yourself. Creating an advance directive is a relatively simple process. If you feel like you need help completing an advance directive, contact a lawyer experienced in this area. They can help you fill out the form and answer any questions that you may have.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.

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