Planning for medical emergencies is an integral part of estate planning. Here, the estate planning attorneys at Snee, Lutche, Heimlinger & Speilberger discuss the legal definition of an advanced medical directive, and how this tool could help you in the future.
Advanced medical directives are designed to outline a person’s wishes and preferences regarding medical treatment. In the event that a person should become unable to make a medical decision on his or her own behalf, this tool ensures that a surrogate decision-maker is available.
Advanced medical directives generally fall into three categories: living will, power of attorney and a health-care proxy.
A living will is a written document that specifies what types of medical treatments are desired should a person become incapacitated. Living wills can be broad statements such as, “if I suffer from an incurable or otherwise irreversible illness and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct my death not to be prolonged.” More specific details within these wills can include the use of specific treatments or services, such as a DNR, CPR treatment and pain relief options, among others.
Power of Attorney
This type of advanced directive grants a designated individual the authority to sign and execute legal documents when a person is incapacitated. They are granted permission to sign social security checks, apply for disability, make banking transactions, pay bills etc. It is important to speak with an experienced attorney when drafting a power of attorney, as it will be necessary to ensure that your personal representative has the authority to handle specific affairs under the law, if you are unable to do so.
When an individual is rendered incapable of making their medical wishes known, a health-care proxy provides that individual the ability to designate a surrogate who is authorized to make those decisions for them. The health-care proxy grants the same rights as a living will, as the designated surrogate has the right to request or deny various forms of treatment that the incapable individual would have done had they the ability to do so.
The Importance of an Advanced Medical Directive
Advanced medical directives were developed as a result of widespread concerns over patients undergoing unwanted medical treatments, in effort to preserve life at any cost.
From a functional standpoint, medical directives and living wills facilitate a person’s medical care and decision making in situations when they are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate those decisions themselves.
Establishing legal documentation for one’s medical wishes before it is needed can significantly alleviate a family’s and physician’s immense decision-making burden in time of emotional turmoil. Simultaneously, patient autonomy is preserved through the process by ensuring treatment decisions are made based on the individual’s own desire.
What to know
The laws that govern advanced medical directives are legally valid throughout the United States. Although a lawyer is not required to fill out an advanced directive, the document becomes legally valid once signed by required witnesses.
Each state has their own laws governing advanced directives, so it is important to understand, complete and sign a directive that complies with your state’s law. One state’s directive will not necessarily translate or be valid in another state.
Advanced directives do not expire and will remain in effect until you legally alter the documents. In doing so, any prior documentation will be invalidated.
Planning for your own mortality can be challenging. However, being prepared will save you and your loved ones time and grief in the long run. If you or a loved one has any questions or concerns about advanced medical directives, contact one of the estate planning attorneys at SLHS today.