Many times people hear the phrase “estate planning” and think it refers to documents preparing their loved ones for what they wish to happen after they have died. However a good estate planning attorney can show you that a solid estate plan actually plays a valuable role in ensuring the QUALITY OF LIFE while you are alive. One component of your estate plan – the ADVANCED DIRECTIVE – allows you to make certain health care wishes known while you are healthy and able to communicate them.
Many people are confused by advanced directives. They don’t know what they are, nor whether they need them – especially if they are young. In general, an advanced directive is a written statement of your medical wishes; including information on who you wish to carry out those wishes (known as your “agent”), and what your preferences are for your medical treatment.
There are several types of advanced directives:
- A LIVING WILL communicates what type of life support and medical treatments, such as ventilators or a feeding tube, you wish to receive. Another document gaining momentum in Massachusetts is the MEDICAL ORDERS OF LIFE SUSTAINING TREATMENT or MOLST. This document can be downloaded from the MA Department of Public Health.
- A HEALTH CARE PROXY (a/k/a/ HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY) lets you nominate the person(s) you wish to have the power to make health care decisions for you in the event are unable to do so for yourself.
- A DO NOT RESUSCITATE order, or DNR order, is a request that you not receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing.
Depending on the laws in your state, the health care form you execute could include all three types of health care directives, or you may do each individually. For example, in Massachusetts, these documents are usually drafted as separate stand-alone documents.
ALL ADULTS, 18 YEARS OF AGE AND OVER, SHOULD ESTABLISH ADVANCED DIRECTIVES.
No one thinks they will be in a medical situation requiring a directive at a young age. Many times, people don’t want to think of the “worst case scenario.” However health care directives are a POWERFUL TOOL in enhancing the quality of your life:
- YOU get to CONTROL who can speak for you, and make your medical wishes known, if you can’t speak for yourself.
You have the right, as long as you are still competent, to revoke and create new advanced directives should your wishes regarding your medical treatment, or agents allowed to make decisions for you, change.
- YOU get to COMMUNICATE your wishes of the type of medical care you feel comfortable with.
Your loved ones won’t have to make guesses about what you would have wanted in a medical situation.
Creating Advanced Directives is as easy as 1, 2, and 3:
1. The first step is to consult with your estate planning attorney, and discuss the advanced directives which best meet your individual situation.
2. Then talk with the people you have chosen as your health care agents. Make sure they understand your wishes, and are capable of caring them out. These conversations may seem difficult, but in reality they provide peace of mind to you, and those who love you.
3. Finally, once your have signed your advanced directives, give a copy of your signed documents to your health care providers, so that your wishes are clearly on record, and let your agent know where you store these documents. There are services who charge a small annual fee to store these documents securely online (i.e. DocuBank) and have them available to your 24/7/365.
Planning ahead allows your voice to be heard, even when you are unable to speak for yourself.