Your estate plan is about more than simply distributing your assets. Advanced directives make your wishes regarding life-sustaining medical care known so you will be protected in the event that you become too injured or ill to make your own medical decisions.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is a type of advanced directive that allows another person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself. Naming a person to make these decisions prevents disputes among your family members and keeps them from potentially having to go to court to get the legal authority to oversee your medical care.

As you’re deciding who should have power of attorney for your healthcare decisions, you should consider the following:

  • Values. Does the person share the same values regarding medical care? If not, will they respect your wishes?
  • Medical knowledge. Ideally, you want to choose a person who has basic medical knowledge so they can make informed decisions regarding your care.
  • Assertiveness. The person you choose should be assertive enough to advocate on your behalf when there is a dispute as to what treatment options are most likely to be effective.
  • Availability. Does the person live nearby? Do they have the time necessary to act on your behalf in an emergency situation? How do they feel about taking on this responsibility?

The person who has power of attorney for your medical decisions is often the same person who holds a financial power of attorney. However, you can choose two different individuals if you believe this is appropriate.

A HIPAA authorization form should be completed for the person you select to have your power of attorney for medical decisions, as well as for any other people you wish to have access to personal information about your medical care. Without this form, privacy laws prevent doctors from sharing information about your condition—even if it’s a spouse or adult child asking for an update.

Living Will

A living will is an advanced directive that addresses any preferences you have regarding the type of medical care you wish to receive if you are ill or injured and unable to speak on your own behalf. For example:

  • Palliative care. What types of treatment would you like to receive when you are near the end of your life? Do you want to be allowed to die at home? Do you want to avoid invasive tests or treatments?
  • Antibiotics and antiviral medications. If you are near the end of your life, do you want to receive these medications, or would you prefer to let an infection run its course?
  • Blood transfusions. Do you have any objections to receiving transfusions of blood or blood products in a medical emergency?
  • Tube feeding. When someone is unable to eat and drink independently, nutrients and fluids can be supplied intravenously. Do you wish to be fed in this matter? For how long?
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If your heart stops beating, do you want to be resuscitated?
  • Mechanical ventilation. If you suffer from a condition where you can’t breathe on your own, do you want to be placed on a ventilator? If so, do you wish to remain on a ventilator indefinitely?
  • Dialysis. When the kidneys no longer function, dialysis removes waste from the blood and manages fluid levels. Do you want to receive this treatment?
  • Organ donation. Are you interested in organ donation? If you wish to donate your organs after your death, this should be specified in your living will even if you’re already listed as an organ donor on your driver’s license.
  • Donating your body for medical research. You need to register for a planned donation with a medical school, university, or research program to donate your body to science. However, if this is something you are interested in, it should be noted in your living will.

The person with a healthcare power of attorney, who is often referred to as your healthcare agent or proxy, will need to make decisions regarding any issues not specifically addressed in your living will. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make your living will as detailed as possible.

It can be difficult to discuss the topic of end-of-life medical care with your loved ones, but making these decisions ahead of time will alleviate a great deal of stress in the event that you experience a serious illness or injury that requires someone else to act on your behalf.

Changing or Modifying Your Advanced Directives

It is your legal right to make changes or modifications to your advanced directives at any time. When you make changes, you should distribute new copies of the documents to the appropriate individuals and ensure that any existing copies are destroyed.

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