Healthcare Directives

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 What Are Healthcare Directives?

Healthcare directives are legal documents that state a person’s requests regarding their medical treatment needs. They are meant to be used at times when a person does not have the physical ability to make and communicate their decisions for themselves. There are several different types of healthcare directives. They are sometimes referred to as “advanced directives” or “medical directives.”

In a healthcare directive, a person usually appoints a healthcare agent. The agent is granted various powers to make decisions on behalf of the person when they cannot do that for themselves. A person may limit their agent’s authority by stating the scope of their duties and powers in the healthcare directive document. Healthcare providers must follow a valid directive.

How Do I Create a Healthcare Directive?

Healthcare derivatives or directives are typically made using a form. However, a person does not necessarily need a form. They do need to make sure the following general requirements are met in their directive:

  • The instructions should be in writing;
  • The written document should be dated;
  • The document needs to state the person’s legal name;
  • The document must be signed by either the person or someone who is legally authorized to sign on the person’s behalf;
  • The signature needs to be verified by two witnesses or a notary public;
  • A person needs to appoint an agent who will make healthcare decisions on their behalf; and
  • They should clearly state the instructions regarding which healthcare choices are to be made on the person’s behalf.

People may also want to consult their physician and an attorney when preparing their healthcare derivative. This will help avoid vague or unclear terms and can prevent legal conflicts or confusion in the future.

Why Should I Have a Healthcare Directive?

Healthcare directives can be very useful when someone cannot communicate their healthcare decisions to others. This can often happen due to physical or mental incapacitation.

Healthcare directives are also important if a person simply wants to authorize another person to make their healthcare decisions. In most instances, healthcare directives may be made at the onset of certain physical or medical conditions when it is possible that a person would become incapable of making their own medical decisions shortly. For example, a person might do this before they have major surgery.

Healthcare directives may deal with decisions such as:

  • Whether or not to undergo a certain type of surgery;
  • Whether the person is to be placed on or taken off of life support;
  • Whether the person should take certain medications or undergo various forms of treatment; and
  • Various other types of healthcare-related decisions.

Ultimately, healthcare directives are a “worst case scenario” measure. No one plans on getting sick or dying, but it does happen. If a person feels strongly about the type of care they want to receive and the care they do not want to receive, in the event of an emergency or end-of-life situation, they should consider a healthcare directive an essential step.

Are Healthcare Directives the Same as Living Wills?

A living will generally state a person’s healthcare requirements. However, unlike a directive, living wills do not include a power of attorney, a legal document that grants the legal authority to make decisions to another person, i.e., the agent.

Healthcare directives may function as both living wills and powers of attorney. For this reason, it can be a more flexible option for planning one’s future.

Generally speaking, a living will is not a traditional will. Rather, it is a document that declares the type of medical treatment a person wants or does not want if they cannot make and communicate the decisions.

What Is a Do Not Resuscitate Order?

A do not resuscitate order (DNR) is a specific type of directive. The person generally gives it in cases where they do not want to be revived, for instance, if they have had a heart attack and are unconscious or comatose. It can deal with specific details such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Such orders may not necessarily be considered a formal healthcare directive in itself. It usually appears as a supplement to other existing healthcare directives. This order is typically given by patients who have become critically or terminally ill and do not wish to receive further treatment if they become unresponsive or unconscious.

Some people have tattooed “Do Not Resuscitate” on their bodies, hoping that, if necessary, the medical team working on them would follow the order. However, many medical professionals do not follow a DNR tattoo, and it is for good reason.

To best serve their patients and comply with the law, medical professionals need all the complete and correct information before making an important decision, such as not to resuscitate the patient. This would include all necessary legal documents and information with a valid DNR. A tattoo does not do the trick.

If a person hopes to rely on a tattoo DNR, they should understand that it will not be relied upon by medical staff. If a person wants an effective DNR order, they must prepare a legally valid DNR document.

What Are Advanced Directive Registries?

If no one can find a person’s living will, durable power of attorney, or advanced healthcare directive when the time comes, there is an optional advance directive registry with which a person can file their durable power of attorney or advanced directive. The advance directive registry is a state-run registry in every state where a person can record their healthcare directive. Thus, for a fee, healthcare providers can easily access a person’s document and determine what type of treatment they should provide to the person.

Another way to ensure that a person’s wishes are respected is to consult with an attorney about the law of the state where the person lives. The attorney can advise the person on what documents are required in their state, whether an advanced healthcare directive or a durable power of attorney. This will help ensure that a person has the right document and that it is fully valid, legal, and enforceable when the decisions are made.

Can I Change or Cancel My Directive?

It is possible to change or cancel a healthcare directive. To make changes, a person needs to make written statements that clearly and unmistakably express the changes they want. Or a person can simply draft a new directive and destroy all copies of the old one. If they do not want to have a directive, they would simply destroy the old one and not replace it.

To cancel a directive, a person must usually create a written statement that revokes or cancels the directive. This statement should be dated and signed by a witness or witnesses. Or, again, a person can simply destroy all copies of their existing directive. If they have filed it with a registry, they would want to remove it from the registry.

Remember that the rules regarding cancellations and changes to directives may vary by state. Again, a person might want to consult an attorney so they are certain to comply with the requirements in their state regarding changing or canceling an advanced healthcare directive.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Healthcare Directive?

When trying to control who makes healthcare decisions for you when you cannot do it for yourself, your best bet is to consult an estate lawyer. A lawyer can tell you what legal document you need, how to draft it, and how to execute it so that it is sure to be valid. An estate lawyer knows your state’s law and how to create a document that will work as you wish.

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