Advance Directives: Why are they important?

advance directivesAdvance Directives: Why are they important?

An Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll found that 64 percent of boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — say they don’t have advance directives like a health surrogate designation or living will.  These documents give the power for someone else to make medical decisions and communicate with doctors should you become incapacitated.  However, the Terri Schiavo case makes it clear that, not only should baby boomers be thinking about these issues, but anyone who is of legal age should be thinking about these issues.

Certainly, if we have learned anything from the Schiavo matter, it is that being prepared and having advance directives in place will certainly avoid future emotional and legal battles.  Since the publicity received from Schiavo, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of people seeking to have their basic estate planning completed.  Here are a few tips if you are interested in doing the same:

1.         Know what documents you need.

a.         A “living will” (not the same as your “Last Will and Testament” or a “Living trust”) is a statement detailing how you would like to be treated in the event that you are in a persistent vegetative state, and end-stage condition, or a terminal condition and cannot verbalize a decision regarding the use of life sustaining procedures.  It also allows you to state whether you wish for food and water to be administered in the event you are in one of these conditions.

b.         “Health care power of attorney” or “health care proxy” is the person you authorize to carry out your decisions regarding end of life treatment, as well as carrying out other medical decisions on your behalf.

2.         If you are executing documents off the internet, make sure you follow statutory procedures in executing same.  Although most attorneys discourage using standard forms, the Florida Bar does have approved forms which you can download and use, as well as a section on frequently asked questions.  For more information, go to www.flabar.org and look for information regarding Living Wills and Healthcare surrogate forms.  The main reason I disagree with simply filling out a form is because those forms may not necessarily address a client’s particular circumstances or issues.  For example, who do you want to serve as your agent and will that person necessarily honor your wishes?  Does that person even know what you want?  Do you want blood transfusions, and if so, will you take any blood or do you only want blood from friends and family?  Are you willing to accept experimental treatment?  Do you want your agent to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order?  Do you want to refuse treatment for reversible secondary conditions such as pneumonia or an infection?  Would you like music played if you cannot communicate?  If so, what kind of music?  Do you have a specific health facility you want to be in?  These are just some of the questions an attorney will ask and can answer for you in the Living Will.

3.         Make sure that the person you choose is willing to carry out your wishes.  During the Schiavo fiasco, I heard a news report that Terri’s father allegedly said that, even if she had a living will, he would have fought until the end to keep her alive.  I don’t know if this is true, but if you have a family member that thinks like that, obviously, you would not want to make that person your agent or surrogate.  The agent should be someone who is level headed, can listen to and understand what the doctors have to say, and someone who can be strong enough to make decisions.  The individual should make sure to review his or her wishes with the agent and be confident that the agent accepts the responsibility.