Advance Health Care Directives provide instructions about the course of treatment to be followed by health care providers and caregivers if a person cannot make these decisions because of incapacity or illness. A Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare, also known as a Healthcare Proxy, gives an individual, chosen in advance by the creator of the POA, the authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the incapacitated or terminally ill patient. A Living Will is often created in conjunction with a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This legal document specifies the medical services the incapacitated or terminally ill patient does or does not want to receive in an end of life situation. A properly designed estate plan should contain both.
One of the most important benefits of having a Power of Attorney for Healthcare is that it can prevent the court proceeding known as Guardianship. The end result of a Guardianship process is that the court chooses who will make healthcare decisions for you in the event of incapacity. Unfortunately, the person chosen by the court might not be someone you would have wanted to make these decisions. In addition, the Guardianship process is time-consuming, expensive and stressful for everyone involved. With a properly designed and implemented Power of Attorney for Healthcare, a person of your choosing will make decisions on your behalf, and your family will be spared the painful experience of a Guardianship proceeding.
A Living Will gives you further control over how your care will be managed if you become incapacitated or seriously ill. For example, a Living Will might forbid the use of certain types of medical treatment that you would not want utilized to prolong your life by extraordinary means, or forego the provision of food or water if these must be supplied using tubes or other invasive medical techniques.
Many people wonder if an attorney is required to create a valid Living Will. While you could use software programs or online services to help you make a Living Will on your own, you should know that a cookie-cutter Living Will can lead to problems in ensuring that your wishes are carried out. An elder law attorney with experience in designing Living Wills can help you determine your wishes with regard to specific situations and make sure that your Living Will is written correctly. Another factor to consider is that your wishes for treatment, and advances in medical science, can change over time. This is why you should have your Living Will updated at least once every three years.
Finally, it is critical for you to make your physician and loved ones aware that you have created a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and a Living Will, as well as tell them how to access these valuable documents.