Most people have strong opinions about what treatment they want (or don’t want) at the end of their lives. An advance directive, sometimes referred to as a living will, allows you to state your intentions in advance. When properly completed, an advance directive can ensure that your care is managed in the way you would want – even if you are not able to state your wishes at that time. There are, however, a few things you should know.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is Better
A living will only applies if you are terminally ill. It may not apply, for example, to a patient who is in a coma and theoretically might come out of the coma someday. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, on the other hand, allows an agent of your choice, to make almost any medical decision that you could have made yourself. This could include stopping treatment for a comatose or vegetative patient.
An Advance Directive Makes Your Wishes Clear
Most people talk about living wills as something that can allow a person to stop treatment. This is an important goal for some people. They can also be used, however, to insist that every medical effort is made to keep you alive. The law is not designed to take one position or the other – it is designed to allow you to choose what you want.
They are not Expensive to Prepare
A lawyer will typically not charge very much to prepare a durable power of attorney for health care. It is also possible to prepare one at no cost. Many social service agencies can provide you with the form and assist you with filling it out. It is important, however, to work with somebody who knows what they are doing.
It Should be Accessible
Unlike a will or other legal documents, an advance directive should not be kept in a safe deposit box. In order to be useful to you, it must be easily accessible. In the event of a medical emergency, a power of attorney will only be followed by your doctors if they know about it. Many hospitals allow you to file a copy with them and add it to your permanent medical file. At a minimum, your designated agent, and a close family member should know where to find it.
Discuss Your Wishes With Your Agent and Your Family
Talking to your family and your agent about your wishes is an important part of the process. Family members may not agree with your decisions about your health care. If they know what you want, however, it will give them the strength to follow your wishes.
The most important thing is to decide what you want and prepare your advance directive while you are healthy. It can save you and your family a great deal of heartache.
Stotis & Baird attorneys practice in Chicago, Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Glenview and the rest of the Chicagoland area in the areas of estate planning, elder law and litigation.