Your elderly father unexpectedly collapses at a family dinner. You revive him and rush him to the nearest hospital. Shortly thereafter, an Emergency Room nurse approaches and asks, “Do you know your father’s wishes? Does he have an advanced directive? If we are unable to resuscitate him quickly, we will need to make some decisions quickly.” How would you respond?
Hopefully, nothing like this has happened or will happen to you. Of course, life gives no guarantees. If this occurred in the future and your children would be with you at the hospital, would they know and carry out your wishes for end-of-life care?
Unfortunately, some people who haven’t made their plans known to their loved ones can unintentionally make life difficult for them. All too often, family members are forced to make emotionally difficult decisions with little knowledge of what the patient desired.
Your health care wishes, as spelled out in a medical power of attorney and a living will, could be the most important estate planning documents that you sign. By giving your loved ones clear direction, you can specify the kinds of treatment you want and can name the person you want to carry out your wishes during these tough times when you are unable to do so.
What’s the difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney?
- A living will articulates your preferences about certain kinds of life-sustaining treatments. For example, you can specify whether you prefer or oppose medical interventions like cardiac resuscitation, insertion of feeding tubes or mechanical respiration.
- A medical power of attorney (POA) identifies a person whom you trust who will act as your representative if you are unable to speak for yourself. If you prefer to have one person act as your health care representative and another person to serve as your financial representative, you can separate your medical and financial powers of attorney into two documents.
Medical POAs involve at least two people: the principal (or patient unable to speak) and the agent (the person trusted to carry out the principal’s wishes). In selecting your agent, you’ll obviously want a person that you trust, that will carry out your wishes, and that won’t be intimidated by medical professionals or other family members who disagree with your wishes.
To make sure your documents are legally binding in your home state, it’s best to seek the help of an experienced attorney.