If you have been following our series this month, you know that we have been focusing our blog posts on the most common documents that comprise an Estate Plan. So far we have discussed Wills and Powers of Attorney. This week, we will look at one of the most critical documents needed for any estate plan – the Advance Directive for Health Care.
What would happen if you were in a serious accident and unable to communicate with medical personnel? Who could get information about your condition or make decisions regarding your treatment? Unless a medical provider has your express permission, information about your condition cannot be disclosed to any person. But how can you give permission if you are unable to communicate?
In an Advance Directive for Health Care, you name an individual who you trust to serve as your agent to receive information from and communicate with medical personnel. Your agent is responsible for making medical decisions for you if you are unable. In the document, you can also provide guidance to your agent by stating your treatment preferences regarding life sustaining procedures. By having this document in place ahead of such a crisis, you avoid unnecessary chaos during an emotional time by laying out a clear plan of who is responsible for making medical decisions for you and what kind of care you want.
If you do not have an Advance Directive for Health Care in place, a healthcare provider might accept the instructions of family, but if family members disagree, there will be no one with authority to be the decision maker. Without an Advance Directive, in the event of conflict, someone would have to petition the Probate Court to be appointed as guardian in order to make medical decisions for you. The process is expensive, time-consuming, and requires a Court hearing. The Judge will appoint an attorney to represent you, but that attorney will not know you and will not know if the person petitioning the Court to be guardian is someone you trust or who you would want to make decisions for your health care. Without an Advance Directive for Health Care, you are leaving this critical decision up to the Probate Court.
The Advance Directive for Health Care is a relatively simple document that can make all of the difference in an emergency. You control and make clear who should be communicating with medical personal and making medical decisions for you and what life sustaining measures should be taken. The Advance Directive for Health Care is not just for the elderly, any individual over the age of 18 should have this document in place to ensure that there is a clear plan in the event the individual is unable to communicate medical decisions.