Health care decisions
While you may be fully able to make and communicate your health care decisions now, there could be a time in the future when you cannot do so. Thus, it is desirable to plan in advance by completing an advance directive. This planning becomes even more important as you grow older and are more likely to need health care. Many attorneys routinely have their clients complete advance directives as part of the estate planning process.
General features of advance directives include:
- effective periods
- life-sustaining procedures
- artificially provided nutrition and hydration
- choosing a decision-maker known as your agent or advocate an agent's authority
- communicating your wishes
If you don't complete an advance directive, most states have laws that specify who makes health care decisions for individuals who are incapable of making their own.
Depending on the state in which you live, you may need one medical directive or you may need two. Most people have heard about a living will, but many are unaware of the second directive, the durable power of attorney for health care, sometimes called a health-care proxy.
A durable power of attorney for health care gives another individual you choose the right to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so for yourself at some time in the future. There may be times, even if you are not in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious, that you are unable to make and communicate your health care decisions. In these circumstances, an agent can help make decisions for you.
A living will tells your loved ones, and the hospital staff, how you wish to be cared for in case you become terminally ill and includes instructions about whether you wish to be placed on life support.
In some states, both of these documents have been replaced by a single document called a medical directive or an advance directive.
Your task in this step is to decide which health care documents are right for you. Then you should complete the documents, either using a legal software program or with your attorney. Once they are completed and binding (signed and notarized just like a will), advise the appropriate party or parties about your decisions and where you keep the respective documents.