Healthcare directives are legal documents that state your intentions wishes regarding your medical treatment needs when you do not have the mental capabilities to make the decisions. There are several different types of healthcare derivatives to carry out your wishes.

In a healthcare directive, you will usually appoint a healthcare agent. This is a person who you will appoint to have various powers to make decisions on your behalf. You may limit your agent’s authority by stating the scope of their duties and powers in the healthcare directive document. State laws may also vary and may place various limitations on the agent’s powers. 

How Do I Create a Healthcare Directive?

Healthcare derivatives or directives are typically made using a form. You don’t necessarily need a form, but you do need to make sure the following general requirements are met:

  • The instructions should be in writing and dated;
  • The document needs to list your legal name;
  • The document must be signed by either you or someone who is authorized to sign on your behalf;
  • Your signature needs to be verified by two witnesses or a notary public;
  • You need to appoint the agent who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf; and
  • You should clearly state the instructions regarding which healthcare choices are to be made on your behalf.

You may also want to consult with your physician as well as an attorney when preparing and creating your healthcare derivative. This will help avoid any 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 important and useful in situations where you can’t communicate your healthcare decisions. This can often happen due to physical or mental incapacitation

Healthcare directives are also important if you simply want another person to legally make your healthcare decisions for you. In most instances, healthcare directives may be made at the onset of certain physical or medical conditions, where it might be possible that the person can’t make their own medical decisions in the near future.

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 be taken off of life support;
  • Whether the person should take certain medications or undergo various forms of treatment; and
  • Various other types of medical and healthcare-related decisions.

In the end, healthcare directives are a “worst case scenario” measure. No one plans on getting sick or dying, but it does happen. If you feel strongly about the type of care you should receive in the event of an emergency or end-of-life care, then you should consider a healthcare directive as an essential step in taking care of your loved ones. 

Are Healthcare Directives the Same as Living Wills?

No. A living will generally states your healthcare wishes and desires. However, unlike a directive, living wills do not include appointing a power of attorney (transferring the legal capacity to make decisions to another person, i.e., the agent). 

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

Generally speaking, a living will is not a traditional will. Instead, it is a document that declares the type of medical treatment that you want or do not want, in the event that you cannot make the decision yourself.

What is a “Do Not Resuscitate Order”?

A “do not resuscitate order,” or DNR, is a specific type of directive. It is generally given by the person 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 the use of 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 taken to tattooing “Do Not Resuscitate” on their body, with hopes that, if necessary, the medical team working on them will follow the order. However, many medical professionals do not follow a DNR tattoo and it is for good reason. 

In order to best serve their patients, medical professionals need all of the correct and full information before making an important decision like not resuscitating the patient. This would include all of the important legal and official documents/information that comes with a valid DNR, that does not come with a tattoo.

If you are hoping to rely on a tattoo DNR, then please know that it will not be relied upon by a medical staff. If you really want a DNR, then you must prepare a formal, valid DNR. 

What are Advance Directive Registries?

In the event that no one can find your living will or power of attorney when the time comes, there is an optional advance directive registry that you can be on. The advance directive registry is a state run registry where you can record your healthcare directive. Thus, for a fee, healthcare providers can easily access your wishes and determine what type of treatment you should receive.

Besides this, another way to ensure that your wishes are met is to consult with an attorney with regard to your directive. This will help make sure that your directive is valid, legal, and enforceable when the time comes for different decisions to be made.  

Can I Change or Cancel My Directive?

It is usually possible to change or cancel a healthcare directive. To make changes, you will need written statements that clearly and unmistakably express the different changes and adjustments you want made.

To cancel your directive, you must usually create a written statement that revokes or cancels the directive. This statement should be dated as well as signed in the presence of a witness or witnesses. 

Bear in mind that the rules regarding cancellations and changes to directives may vary by state law.

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

When creating legal documents with binding effects such as a directive, it is wise to retain an experienced wills, trusts, and estates lawyer. If anything goes wrong with the document, your wishes will not go through and you may be left with costly consequences. To avoid this, you may wish to work with a lawyer who can help advise you on your options.