Advanced Health Care Directives (commonly called "living wills") lay out your preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment. The document includes a "health-care proxy" or "agent under power of attorney for health-care," which allows someone to make treatment decisions for you if you are incapacitated and the Advanced Health Care Directive does not have specific instructions for the situation at hand.
As of 2017, only around one in three American adults had an advance directive for end-of-life care prepared. I usually recommend that anyone over 18 should have one. Anyone older than 65 are more likely to have an advance directive prepared than those who are younger, as are those have chronic illness more likely than those who are not. People may be unwilling to prepare these documents because they fear that they won't necessarily reflect their wishes at the time they become relevant; sometimes patients become more willing to undergo treatments they rejected when they were younger as they age and develop medical problems. However, the documents can be changed any time, as long as they are witnessed (one also needs a Notary Public in some states, such as Florida, depending on current law). If you continue to communicate your values with your proxy, they can make decisions based on your most recent preferences.
So why are Advanced Health Care Directives important? They reduce ambiguity. Being clear about what you want can prevent family disputes during what is already a difficult time. It may seem like something that can be put off, but life is unpredictable; one never knows when these documents could become relevant. Furthermore, it need not be a hassle. A living will is a straightforward document; however it's important to work with legal counsel to make sure your wishes are properly stated. A lawyer can help you decide who you should name as your agent - the person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable. Once you have signed any documents make sure you keep them updated, especially if you move out of state. You should also continue communicating with whomever you named to act on your behalf.
If you need an Advanced Health Care Directive or already have one that you would like reviewed, get in contact with us by calling (207) 377-6966.
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