Advanced Health Care Directives: Are They Necessary?

Most of us don’t like to think about the possibility of something harmful happening to us or a loved one. Because of this, we rarely think about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones if the worst were to happen. Just as it is important to buy home insurance to protect your home and auto insurance to protect your vehicle, every individual should have an advanced health care directive to protect themselves if they are no longer able to make decisions for their health care, end of life, living arrangements, and various other personal matters.

The basic definition of an advanced health care directive is a legal document or group of legal documents in which a person puts in writing what their wishes are for their health if they no longer have capacity to make these decisions for themselves. Advanced health care directives are often comprised of a living will and a health care proxy. Everyone who is above the age of 18 should have one.

There are several key items you should include in your advanced health care directive. While these can be drafted without legal help, this is a legally binding document as soon as it is signed in front of the required witnesses and it is essential that you seek the advice of a legal professional when creating a directive. The most important instructions to include are which life support treatments you want, or do not want. You can provide directions about whether you want all life support treatments, no life support treatments, or you may choose individual support treatments such as blood transfusions or dialysis.

Another facet every health care directive should contain is who you choose to be your health care proxy. This person will be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. This person should be someone who you are close to and can trust. You can also decide if you want a do not resuscitate order, which states that if your heart stops or you are no longer breathing, you want every effort, or no effort, made to revive you. Depending on your personal preferences, you should also include whether you would like to donate your organs.

Important Information to Keep in Mind

Advanced health care directives are not congruent throughout the United States and laws may vary from state-to-state. This can often be confusing because one state’s directive may not work in another state. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you should complete advanced health care directives for all states where you spend a significant amount of time.

Emergency medical technicians are legally obligated to do whatever is necessary to stabilize a person and transfer them to a hospital. Therefore, they simply cannot honor your advanced health care directive. Your directive will be implemented when a medical professional evaluates your condition.

Advanced health care directives have no expiration timeline – the original will remain in effect unless you make changes to it. If you create a new directive in the same state, the previous one will be invalidated. It is important to notify the agent named in both the old and new document.

If your wishes do change, it is important to keep your advanced health care directive up to date. If you choose to make changes, it is recommended that you create an entirely new document.

Advanced health care directives are extremely important because they give you a voice when you may not be able to speak on your behalf. If you have questions about anything you’ve read or would like to meet with a legal professional to discuss how you could benefit from an advanced health care directive, please contact me.

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