People are living longer than ever. With the constant increase in effective medical science, we now have larger life-spans than at any point in history. However, with these expanding life-spans comes added responsibility that affects the older generation with increasing regularity.
The process of aging brings about the realization that you will not live forever. And with the increase for health complications/risks, it becomes imperative to formulate a plan in case of medical emergencies. If you are suddenly overcome with an illness, physical problem, or medical calamity that negates your ability to make decisions, then others will be put in charge of making them for you. That is why it is important to take advantage of advanced health-care directives that put into place methods for us to deal with these types of situations. Because, when left to chance, your medical future may hinge upon court orders given to family members instead of coming directly from you and your wishes.
Once you have decided to take the necessary steps and develop an advanced health-care directive, it becomes increasingly important to study up on state laws that govern these types of mandates. Every state allows a person to make their wishes known when it comes to terminal medical issues and injury. Each state also lets people appoint a designated caretaker who takes over the decision-making process when you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. It is also important to know if your state allows you to draft your own document, or if they have a standardized form that must be filled out in order to complete your health directive.
Even more importantly, you must never sign anything that you do not understand. Make sure that whatever document you draft, you have read and understood each part so there are no surprises thrown your way. And never be confused by the different terminology thrown around by different states. Some states refer to these advanced health-care directives as living wills, health-care proxies, or medical directives. While there are minor differences in each plan, they are just variations of the protection plan that you are seeking to put into place.
The most commonly used health-care directive document, when seeking to protect your future medical interests, would be the living will. A living will is a document that tells your doctor and family how you want to be treated during certain medical circumstances. Depending upon the laws in your state, a living will allows a person to express their wishes regarding whether they want life-sustaining treatment in case of terminal illness/injury, whether they want food and water to be given them via intravenous devices (food tube), or if they want to end their life along with other life-altering decisions.
Life-sustaining treatment means using medical machines and treatments in order to extend one’s life. These machines may include ventilators, heart-lung machines, and other medical apparatuses that are extremely invasive, although they won’t necessarily save one’s life.
The most important step, when completing your living will, is a simple, yet complex task: Understand and want everything that you sign. While this may seem obvious, there are millions of examples where people are surprised about what they thought they signed, versus what was actually in the document. For example, a common provision across all states concerning living wills is the provision of assisted breathing. This may come as a shock to many people, especially those who are currently living and using assisted-breathing machines.
It is also important to take your own spiritual/religious beliefs into consideration when completing your living will. Different religions have different views on hot-button topics like terminal illness care and how things should unfold in case of unfortunate events. It is important to know and make sure that your spiritual/religious beliefs align with what you are signing.
It is also important to let your family members know what you are putting in your living will and where a copy of that will can be located. Giving your family time to come to terms with your decision will only make the process smoother if something drastic happens to your medical health.
The second most commonly used form of advance health-care directives would be a health-care proxy. They can also be referred to as a health-care surrogate or a medical power of attorney. A health-care proxy is a person that is appointed to make decisions for your medical health in the event that you are unable to make them yourself. They are usually appointed because a person is mentally unable to make their own medical choices, or because they are considered to be unconscious. It is important to remember that medical professionals/doctors are the ones who are determining whether a person is mentally unable or unconscious.
You would typically appoint one person who will have your power of attorney, but in-case that person is unavailable at that particular time, it is wise to appoint a succession of people who could potentially make decisions regarding your medical future. It is also important to remember that, like living wills, state laws may vary in regards to what type of health-care proxy document you can form. Many have statutory forms that you must complete, while some allow you to draft your own document. And just like living wills, it is important to make sure you understand and believe everything that you sign; it is also beneficial to make sure that your power of attorney believes in what he/she is being asked to do and is OK with your wishes concerning your medical health.
How Do I Create My Living Will?
Since we have answered what a living will and health-care proxy are designed to accomplish, it is also important to know how you get these documents. The best way would be to get them through your lawyer. While lawyers can be expensive, they are knowledgeable and up-to-date on the most current information concerning advanced health-care directives. They will be able to tell you whether or not your state is a single or double document state and will provide you with the necessary documents/language needed to complete the process. However, if hiring a lawyer is not a feasible option, you can always download a living will/health-care proxy template from various approved websites. Caring Connections, DeathWise, Compassion and Choices, and Everplans, all contain the legal information necessary for each state along with a downloadable living will that will help you along your journey. Typically you will need two witnesses who will be their when you are signing your document. And while this type of document is binding, it is important to remember that it can be destroyed and recreated at any time.
As we age, the number of people that rely on us grows at a rapid rate. Spouses, lead to children, which will ultimately lead to grandchildren. And because you love all of these individuals, it is important to make sure that there is certainty/safety for them in as many situations as possible. And one of the simplest ways you can do this is by creating a living will that will take away all of the guess work in case a serious medical concern pops up in your future.