The Value of Planning Ahead
Making sure you are cared for according to your wishes when you are unable to speak for yourself is an important part of life planning efforts just like a will. In fact, when many people draft their will, they also take care of what are known as advance directives. These advance directives represent your medical care wishes when you are unable to express them yourself due to lack of consciousness or other impairment.
Two primary types of advance directives exist: living wills and medical power of attorney. We’ll cover both here.
The first type of advance directive is a living will. This advance directive provides your family and healthcare providers with an understanding of your wishes regarding treatment in the event that you are no longer able to make medical decisions. Living wills lay out what you’d like to have happen under various medical and healthcare situations, which may include a terminal illness or a permanent state of unconsciousness.
To trigger a living will, two physicians may have to certify that you aren’t able to make medical decisions. These requirements may vary to some extent from state to state.
Another advance directive tool is a medical power of attorney. With this directive, someone you trust can make medical decisions on your behalf. Again, the medical power of attorney doesn’t get triggered until a physician certifies that you are no longer able to make medical decisions on your own. If you regain the ability to make medical decisions for yourself, the medical power of attorney is no longer in effect. Again, rules for a medical power of attorney can vary to some degree from state to state.
A few key points to remember: Once you create advance directives, they stay in place until you change them; they do not expire. In addition, you should review your advance directives on a regular basis to ensure they reflect your current wishes.
Other types of advance directives include “do not resuscitate” orders, which can be added to your medical record when you are admitted to a hospital, and the Five Wishes® form, which can provide guidance to loved ones. However, the Five Wishes® form is not considered a legal document.
In general, completing your advance directives is well worth the modest amount of time and effort required. Advance directives give your loved ones and healthcare professionals a clear sense of your wishes when you are unable to express them, but more importantly, they give you and your loved ones some peace of mind concerning your health and future.