You have the right to decide what kind of medical treatment you want to receive from doctors and health-care providers. If you can speak up at the time, you can express your wishes yourself. But if you become incapable because you’re ill or injured, you need to plan in advance. Designate a person whom you trust to speak for you. You do this by creating what’s known as an “advance directive” or health care power of attorney.
You also have a choice about the kind of document you prefer. You can ask for a short document that simply conveys general authority on your agent to make health-care decisions for you – or you can opt for a longer document that details the specific powers you give to your agent.
For both versions, we offer a checklist to assist you in discussing your wishes with your agent beforehand.
The General Version
This version is short, clear, and easy to understand. It states, generally, that you have given your agent the authority to speak for you. Your agent knows your wishes, because you have discussed those wishes with him or her beforehand.
The Specific Version
This version goes into detail about what you would like your agent to do for you. For example, it includes the request that providers and your agent consult with you if possible. If not possible, it includes a list of procedures that you authorize your agent to decide on your behalf. Included are decisions about what kind of residential facility you want to be placed in, that an agent can visit you and bar others from visiting if appropriate, can advocate for pain relief, can consent to psychiatric treatment, can decide about anatomical gifts and organ donation, and the document provides procedural details about enforcement.
You will be covered with either version. The choice is yours.
You may also want a separate Living Will for end-of-life decisions. This document becomes effective when you can no longer care for yourself, walk, talk, recognize loved ones, or are in the final stage of an incurable illness. At that point, you can decline expensive, high-intensity care that likely would not improve quality of life.
Choosing Your Agent
The person you choose to be your health-care agent must be someone you can depend on to have good communication skills, remain calm in difficult situations, and deal flexibly with complexity that might arise in reconciling your wishes with available medical options. Choose that person carefully.
Health Care Preferences Checklist
We can offer you a checklist, to help you discuss your wishes with your agent. This is not an easy conversation. It’s hard to contemplate a time when our health has declined or we suffer injury or accident. It is also challenging to try to imagine various scenarios involving situations that can be complicated by numerous medical contingencies.
Still, your agent needs to know what you would want in a variety of situations. These include whether to decline or accept life support and mechanical interventions, when you would opt for or decline surgery, and your preferences about blood transfusions, medication, and religious observance.
For certain states, the checklist also contains a signature line that proves you have discussed your wishes as to feeding and hydration tubes. Otherwise, if your agent doesn’t know what you would decide, the law in some states would take away from your agent the right to decide about those kinds of measures.
Don’t hide your documents!
When it comes time to use your documents but they can’t be found, or if your agent or family don’t understand them or ignore them, you will have spent your time, effort, and money in vain. Make sure your documents are readily available. Give a copy of them to your agent and ask your doctors to include them in your medical records.
You will have done your best to see that your values and health-care choices will be honored.
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Patrick Kelleher is an author and Estate Planning & Elder Law attorney and founder of the elder law care learning center in Hanover, Massachusetts. Patrick has been teaching free educational workshops for over 10 years at his learning center and surrounding communities. Learn more at elderlawcare.com or follow Patrick Kelleher on Facebook because you will learn a lot! Offices in Hanover and Quincy. You can find Patrick’s new book “How to Avoid the Four Headed Monster” of Estate Planning & Elder Law on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/How-Avoid-Four-Headed-Monster-Financial-ebook/dp/B084MB96SK
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