If you’re working on your estate plan, one of the things you should discuss immediately is your health care directive. This is a legal document that protects you during your life.
Your health care directive, which is also known as an advance directive, covers any situation in which you are not in a position to make your own medical care decisions. This may be temporary, such as if you’ve been knocked unconscious, or permanent, such as if you have a degenerative memory disease.
Make your health care wishes known
An advance directive is made up of two legal documents, your living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. The living will discusses which types of treatment you would or would not like to have if you were facing an end-of-life scenario. You may also include a Do Not Resuscitate Order if you do not want to be revived in a life-or-death situation.
The durable power of attorney for health care, also known as your health care agent or proxy, will make sure that your wishes are carried out. Usually, you’ll want to select someone who understands your wishes and who you believe will make sure they will be carried out. You need to select an adult to fulfill this role, and it is normally best to choose someone who lives close to you or who has the time and money needed to come to you in an emergency.
Your advance directive will only come into play if you cannot make decisions for yourself for some reason, such as if you are unconscious or under anesthesia. The living will itself normally does not apply unless death or permanent incapacity is imminent. Your health care agent will make decisions in most situations, such as if you’re in surgery and the surgeon has to make a choice between treatment options.
It’s smart to talk to the person you’d like to have as your proxy in advance. You need to go over your wishes and what to do if you’re unable to make your own choices. Then, they should receive a copy or be told where they can get a copy of the paperwork, so they have it if or when it’s needed.