Understanding Healthcare Powers of Attorney, Advanced Directives and Living Wills

As we navigate through life, it’s essential to plan for the future, including unforeseen circumstances that may affect our health and decision-making abilities. Healthcare Powers of Attorney, and Advanced directives (sometimes known as “living wills”),  are legal documents that allow individuals to express their wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care when they are unable to communicate their preferences. In this blog, we will delve into the importance of advanced directives/living wills, discussing their purpose, components, and the benefits they provide to individuals and their loved ones.

What is the Difference between A Healthcare Power of Attorney and an Advanced Directive?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy is a legal document that designates a trusted person, often a family member or close friend, as a healthcare proxy or healthcare agent. The healthcare proxy has the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of the individual if they are unable to do so. This individual should be someone who understands the individual’s values and wishes regarding medical treatment.

 Advanced directives, which can be executed as a part of  the Healthcare Power of Attorney, is a legal documents that outlines an individual’s end of life healthcare preferences in the event they become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions on their own. They specify whether the individual wishes to receive life-sustaining treatments, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, ventilators, or resuscitation, if they are in a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state, or end stage condition (a condition where an individual is completely physically and mentally dependent). 

Medical Forms

While the Healthcare Power of Attorney and Advance Directives are legal forms, there are also medical forms that an individual can have—these are done in conjunction with a medical professional.

Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A DNR order is a medical directive that instructs healthcare professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the individual’s heart stops or they stop breathing. It is typically issued for individuals who have a terminal illness or are at the end stage of a serious medical condition.

MOLST (Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment):  A MOLST is an enduring medical order form that covers medical options for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and end-of-life treatment.  It is usually required for all individuals admitted to nursing homes, assisted living programs, hospices, home health agencies, and dialysis centers.  It must be accepted by EMS providers and health care professionals, and facilities, event if signed by a petitioner who is not on their staff.

Benefits of Advanced Directives/Living Wills

Ensuring Personal Autonomy: Advanced directives allow individuals to maintain control over their medical treatment even if they are unable to communicate their wishes. They provide peace of mind, knowing that their preferences will be honored in situations when they cannot advocate for themselves.

Relieving Family Burden: Having clear directives in place reduces the burden on family members and loved ones who may otherwise have to make difficult decisions on the individual’s behalf. By clearly expressing their wishes, individuals can spare their families from potential disagreements and emotional distress.

Medical Treatment Consistency: Advanced directives help ensure that medical professionals are aware of an individual’s treatment preferences. This allows healthcare providers to make informed decisions that align with the individual’s values, avoiding unnecessary or unwanted medical interventions.

Facilitating End-of-Life Discussions: Discussing advanced directives with loved ones creates an opportunity for important conversations about end-of-life care. These discussions help families understand each other’s desires, promote shared decision-making, and foster a sense of unity during challenging times.

Creating Your Advanced Directives

  • Consult Legal Professionals: While some jurisdictions may provide standardized forms, it’s advisable to consult an attorney or legal professional who specializes in healthcare law. They can guide you through the process, ensuring that your advanced directives comply with relevant laws and regulations.
  • Communicate with Loved Ones: Share your wishes and decisions with your family members, close friends, and designated healthcare proxy. Openly discussing your preferences can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Regularly Review and Update: Life circumstances and medical treatment options may change over time. It’s crucial to review and update your advanced directives periodically or when significant events occur, such as a change in health status, a move to a different state or country, or changes in your personal values and beliefs.

Start Planning Now

Planning for the future includes making provisions for unforeseen circumstances, such as medical emergencies or end-of-life care. Work with a professional estate planning attorney, like DK Rus Law, to create an estate plan that includes advanced directives and a will that ensures your wishes are followed, and your family is taken care of. Contact us now to get started with a free consultation.