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DOCUMENTING DECISIONS
 

Planning for your end-of-life in advance is essential to ensure your wishes are honored. There are recognized legal documents you can, and should, complete.

1.

Advanced Directive
 
  • An advance directive, sometimes called a living will, allows you to document your wishes concerning medical treatments at the end of your life. 

  • Advance directives are legally valid throughout the United States. While you do not need a lawyer to fill out an advance directive, your advance directive becomes legally valid as soon as you sign them in front of the required witnesses.

  • Emergency medical technicians cannot honor living wills or medical powers of attorney. Once emergency personnel have been called, they must do what is necessary to stabilize a person for transfer to a hospital, both from accident sites and from a home or other facility. After a physician fully evaluates the person's condition and determines the underlying conditions, advance directives can be implemented.

  • Your advance directive never expires; it remains in effect until you change it. Every new advance directive invalidates the previous one. Review your advance directive periodically to ensure that it still reflects your wishes. If you want to change anything in your advance directive, create a new one.

  • You should review your advance directives periodically to ensure that they still reflect your wishes. If you want to change anything in an advance directive once you have completed it, you should complete a whole new document.

2.

Medical Power of Attorney
 
  • A medical power of attorney (or healthcare proxy) allows you to appoint a person you trust as your healthcare agent (or surrogate decision maker), who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf.

  • Advance directives should be shared with that surrogate and it should be someone with the boldness to speak up for you. It’s important for them to know the thought process that went into your choices.

  • Before a medical power of attorney goes into effect a person’s physician must conclude that they are unable to make their own medical decisions.

  • If a person regains the ability to make decisions, the agent cannot continue to act on the person's behalf.

  • Many Advance Directive Forms (including the CA form above) include a section that addresses Medical Power of Attorney.

THE GOAL
You want to ensure that the people you love and trust are clear on what you would want if you can't speak for yourself. Even if your wishes are clearly stated, a family member or doctor could change the outcome of your advance directive simply by insisting that he or she knows best. Make sure everyone is clear: Advance directives reflect decisions made while you are mentally clear, that you know what’s best for you and that you expect your wishes to be followed.