The patient above was asked if she had a living will or a health care directive. She wondered, why are they asking me this? It’s a simple knee replacement surgery. Do they think I am going to die? However, as discussed in the article “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again” from the Kirkland Reporter, all of these documents need to be in place anytime a medical procedure takes place, no matter how routine the patient may think it is.
Someone, whether a parent, spouse, friend or colleague, needs to be able to have the legal power to make decisions on your behalf, when you cannot. You need a health care directive or a durable Power of Attorney for health care, or both, or to have both of these documents combined into one (depending upon the state you live in; these laws vary by state). In Washington, the official term is health care directive. In other states, the term living will is used.
The health care directive is used to tell doctors and medical caregivers of your choices about medical interventions that you would or would not want to be used, in the unexpected event that you become seriously or critically injured, terminally ill or unable to communicate with those around you.
If you don’t have this document, the decisions will be made by select members of your family with health care professionals. If you don’t want certain things to happen, like being intubated or put on a feeding tube, and they feel strongly that they want to keep you alive, your wishes may not be followed.
A Power of Attorney and health care directives are created when working with an estate planning attorney to create an overall estate plan, which includes your will and any necessary trusts. These documents are too important to try to do on your own. There are major implications. What if they are not executed properly?
The person who is your health care agent has the authority to stop medical treatment on your behalf, or to refuse it. They can hire or fire any medical professional working on your care, and they can determine which medical facility should treat you. They can visit you, regardless of any visitation restrictions, and review your medical records. A durable Power of Attorney for health care gives this person the right to make decisions that are not necessarily covered in your health care directive.
Note that you can revoke your Power of Attorney document at any time, with a written notice to your agent.
These are complicated matters that deserve thoughtful consideration. The person you name will have tremendous responsibility — you are putting your life into their hands. Make sure the person you select is willing to take this responsibility on and have a secondary person in mind, just in case.
Reference: Kirkland Reporter (Feb. 20, 2019) “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again”