health care directives & living wills
End-of-life documents should always be part of a complete Estate Plan so that your loved ones have clear instructions as to how you wish to be treated under certain specific, enumerated terminal health care crises.
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Health Care Directives
A Health Care Proxy, also called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, allows you to designate a health care Agent to make decisions about your medical treatment if you are unable to communicate on your own behalf.
The Agent’s legal duty begins after the patient’s physician/medical team determines that the patient lacks the mental capacity to make medical treatment decisions for him or herself. The agent’s duties and responsibilities as the patient’s advocate include:
1. Obtaining information about the patient from the physician/medical team such as diagnosis, prognosis, and chances of recovering.
2. Obtaining information about the patient’s treatment options from the physician/medical team such as the risks/benefits associated with each treatment option, alternatives to treatments, short and long-term side effects of treatments, and what will happen to the patient if the treatment option is refused.
3. Requesting patient’s medical records.
4. Asking for consultations and second opinions.
5. Requesting and/or authorizing the transfer of the patient to another physician or medical treatment center.
The Agent’s duties end when:
1. The patient dies.
2. The patient regains the mental capacity to make medical decisions.
3. The Agent becomes unwilling or unable to serve or is removed as Agent by a court.
4. If the patient revokes the health care proxy naming you Agent.
A Living Will is a document that informs doctors and other health care professionals of your choices regarding artificial life support, feeding tubes, and hydration if you are unable to communicate on your own behalf.
Even though a Living Will is a valid legal document as soon as it is signed, it cannot be used if you can communicate your medical treatment decisions on your own behalf.
Your Living Will is used only if you are:
1. Unable to understand the nature and consequences of health care decisions, including the benefits and disadvantages of the medical treatments.
2. Unable to reach and communicate an informed decision regarding your treatment.
3. If your physician certifies that you have a terminal condition or are permanently unconscious.
To summarize, while a Living Will sets forth your specific wishes about life sustaining treatment, a Health Care Proxy can be used for a wide range of health care decisions, including surgery and experimental treatments. Both documents are integral components of an effective and powerful estate plan.
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