An advance directive is a legal document in which you dictate your wishes pertaining to medical care in the event you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes directly to your doctor. Hospice of the Valley recommends its patients plan ahead, advising that creating a living will and healthcare power of attorney not only makes your wishes known, it also helps your family.

Types of Advance Directives

There are five basic types of advance directives: living will, medical power of attorney, mental healthcare power of attorney, HIPAA release and pre-hospital medical directive.

A living will provides end-of-life instructions in the event you are unable to make your healthcare decisions known. In it, you can describe what sort of artificial means you want doctors to use, or not use, to prolong your life. These include instructions such as your wishes regarding breathing and feeding tubes.

A medical power of attorney legally assigns an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You make medical choices for yourself while you are still able to make informed choices. Choosing the right agent is important.

A mental healthcare power of attorney is similar to the medical POA, in which you select an agent to act on your behalf in the event you are having mental health issues. The medical POA and mental health POA can be listed in one document, or they can be broken into two separate documents.

An authorization to release healthcare information (HIPAA Release) allows designated individuals to receive information regarding your medical history and medical billing.

Commonly referred to as a do not resuscitate (DNR), a pre-hospital medical care directive instructs medical or emergency services providers to withhold certain life-saving procedures. A DNR must be printed on an orange background and must be signed by a licensed healthcare provider.

Difference Between a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney

Although a living will provides guidance on end-of-life care, medical and mental health care powers of attorney appoint an agent to make medical and mental health care decisions for you when you incapacitated or declared incompetent. For this reason, using a durable power of attorney is especially important. Standard POAs become inactive upon incapacitation or a declaration of mental incompetency. A durable power of attorney, however, does not. These remain in effect either until your death or until you choose to revoke them.

If you became incapacitated and have no powers of attorney, the court would assign a surrogate to make those decisions on your behalf, following a line of succession that begins with a spouse (if applicable) and moves on through your family. This person is called a Guardian.

Once you have your documents in place, share their contents (and even copies documents) with your loved ones, and especially with your chosen agents.

Why Advance Directives are Important

Without an advance directive, the state determines who makes decisions regarding your care. This person may not be the one you would trust to act according to your wishes. The choice of surrogate is decided according to the following order:

  1. Your spouse unless you are legally separated
  2. Adult children, using the consent of the majority of children in the event more than one child is a legal adult
  3. Your living parent(s)
  4. Your domestic partner if no one else assumes financial responsibility
  5. A sibling
  6. A close adult friend

What to Include in Your Advance Directives

When completing your advance directives, a number of items are of importance. The most important item is probably selecting the agent you trust to act on your behalf. This can be anyone who fulfills the legal requirements regarding age and capacity, such as a spouse, a close friend, or a relative. Make sure this person fully understands your wishes and will accept the responsibility of making these decisions on your behalf. You should also wish to name a second third agent in the event your first choice is unavailable or unwilling to fulfill his or her role.

You can also include instructions as to medications to manage pain, hospice care, and other treatments. We can advise you on the types of instructions you may want to include. We can also assist you in selecting the right agent to honor your wishes.

Conclusion

In the end, advance directives help you, but they also help your loved ones navigate a difficult, emotionally trying time. You are protecting them not only from the legal complications of the court deciding who has this power, but also relieving them of the guilt and uncertainty that they are acting in a way you would have wanted.

You want the assistance of an attorney experienced in both Arizona law and estate planning. Cholewka Law can advise and guide you through this process.