Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney: Decisions and Preparation - Mature Health Center

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Originally published August 31, 2015, last updated August 31, 2015

Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney: Decisions and Preparation

Most people have experienced some variation of Murphy’s Law — the adage that anything that can possibly go wrong, will. And yet very few people have taken the simple steps necessary to prepare for such a worst-case scenario — like a medical crisis.

If you’re not convinced you really need health care documents in place, consider the blunt viewpoint of Kelley Tetzlaff, a Phoenix financial advisor who has worked with many families facing excruciating decisions. “A Living Will,” he says, “will help avoid stress, agony, weeping, anger and family discord at a difficult time of life.”

It’s far better to make those decisions now, while minds are clear and emotions are in check. Here are some of the key decisions to make.

Who will make decisions on your behalf?

A Health Care Power of Attorney provides you with a responsibility of selecting an “agent” — that is, the person with the authority to make decisions for you. Usually, the agent will be a spouse, trusted relative or a close friend. Trust is the key factor here … do you trust the person to carry out the decisions in a way you would want?

It’s also important to be certain that your agent clearly understands your wishes and has the fortitude to carry them out, often in the face of pressure from family members or even medical personnel.

An additional factor: location. Appointing an agent who lives hundreds of miles away is not usually practical — in an emergency, that person may not be available to make a decision that may be required quickly.

Life-prolonging procedures

In your Living Will, you will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to accept specific medical interventions if you are at an end-of-life stage, including:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Artificially administered nutrition and hydration
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Surgery
  • Drugs
  • Respiration

Palliative care

Even if you do not wish the above listed procedures or other heroic measures to be used, you likely would still want to remain comfortable and as pain-free as possible. Palliative care, or “pain relief,” is a quickly developing field in health care that is focused on minimizing discomfort in end-of-life situations. Even if you want your death to occur naturally, you can be assured that medical care to relieve pain will still be available, and you can include this directive in your Living Will.

Options for document preparation

There are a number of effective ways to prepare your Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney. Most commonly, these documents are prepared as part of a comprehensive estate plan in which you set out plans for both death and disability. It makes sense to prepare these all at once for several reasons. First, all the documents are, to a degree, interrelated and should be complementary. Second, it’s more cost-efficient to do them together at the same time. Third, there’s a good chance you don’t relish dwelling on these matters any longer than necessary — it’s just as well to tackle the whole thing now.

Hiring a professional

This is normally the best option. A lawyer who is experienced in estate planning will know how to prepare documents that meet your state’s requirements, and that person will also have practical experience in how these issues play out in real life in your particular area. An attorney can also provide valuable, objective counsel regarding which options are best in your specific situation.

Do it yourself

Alternatively, you can also purchase software or complete documents using a reputable online provider. Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorneys are relatively straightforward documents, provided they incorporate current law and are tailored for your state of residence. One danger, however, is that if you should make a mistake with your document — for example, missing a signature — no one will notice until it’s too late. Any savings would be lost a hundred times over if your documents prove to be invalid and a court proceeding is required.

The best outcome, of course, is that you won’t need to use your Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney for a long, long time. But knowing you’ve settled the decisions will give you peace of mind, a good feeling that will far outweigh the temporary uneasiness of thinking about — and planning for — a future crisis.

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