Or maybe you find yourself in an unexpected coma. Although we hope it never happens, you have to be prepared. You want to be in control of your own healthcare options if you are too ill to express your own wishes.
Advanced directives are legal documents that allow you to express your end-of-life wishes should the situation arise. In most states, these consist of two documents: a living will and a healthcare or medical power of attorney. These two documents spell out to your doctors or a hospital what type of medical care you would like if you are unable to tell them yourself.
Your advanced directives can me amended at any time, as long as you are of sound mind to do so. You must be able to think rationally and communicate clearly your wishes. Any time you make a change, you need to have your advanced directives signed and notarized and preferably give them to your physician, hospital, attorney, caregiver, and healthcare power of attorney.
You do not need a lawyer to prepare these documents, although it is advisable. These are usually prepared by an estate attorney. You can download a living will form and a healthcare proxy or medical durable power of attorney form here. Make sure you choose one from the state you are living in, and if you move, you will need to sign a new one.
A Living Will
A living will is a legal document where you spell out the level of care regarding life-prolonging medical treatments. It does not become effective until you are incapacitated. It gives you a choice whether or not you want your life prolonged in the case of 1) an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in your death within a relatively short time; 2) you become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, you will not regain consciousness; and 3) ) the likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits. A living will can be as general or specific as you want it to be. You can also put in special clauses which state:
- If you want dialysis and/or a breathing machine
- If you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops
- If you want to be fed or given water artificially through a tube
- If you want your organs or tissue donated should they be viable
- If you want blood transfusions
A Healthcare Proxy or Durable Medical Power of Attorney
Each state refers to this document by different names (also known as healthcare power of attorney) or even combines these two documents into one. Basically this directive names a person(s) you trust who can make healthcare decisions should you be unable to do so. You are putting a lot of faith in this person to have your best wishes at heart, so choose wisely. There are too many medical situations that can arise for you to spell them all out in your living will. Therefore, this person will need to remain rational in a crisis and must not be easily intimidated by doctors. You might also want to name someone as an alternate should your first choice be unavailable. It doesn’t have to be a relative.
Do not confuse this document with a financial power of attorney – they are two separate things.
None of us want to think about death and dying, but if you don’t, your loved ones may be put in an awkward position at a time when they are too vulnerable to make a decision. Imagine your son, daughter, spouse, significant other or friend having to decide to pull the plug.
I’m not sure even I can do it!