What are Advanced Directives? And Do I Need Them? (Part I)


AdvancedDirectives

What are Advanced Directives?

“Advanced Directive” is the general term given to legal documents that make your wishes known regarding your health care. The basic advanced directives are the Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, HIPAA Waiver, and Declaration for Mental Health Treatment.

What’s a Health Care Power of Attorney, and do I need one?

A health care power of attorney lets you choose a person to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. Without a heath care power of attorney in place, Ohio law will make the decision for you. 

The person you name to make medical decisions for you is called your “Agent.”

Do you need one? It depends whether you like the vague Ohio rules and understand how they’ll affect you if you can’t speak for yourself. We discuss the rules for who makes medical decisions if you don’t have a Health Care Power of Attorney in Part II of this article. 

What’s a Living Will, and do I need one?

A living will says how you want your care handled if you’re permanently unconscious or terminally ill and can’t make your wishes known. 

What does it mean to be terminally ill?

You're “terminally ill” if you have an “irreversible, incurable and untreatable condition caused by disease, illness or injury.”

What does it mean to be permanently unconscious?

You’re “permanently unconscious" if you have an irreversible condition in which you are permanently unaware of yourself and your surroundings. 

Who decides whether I’m terminally ill or permanently unconscious? 

Your physician plus one other physician.

How’s a Living Will different from a Health Care Power of Attorney? 

A Living Will covers only end of life decision-making, where a Health Care Power of Attorney deals with medical decision that need to be made anytime you can’t speak for yourself. The other big difference between the two is that the Living Will doesn’t appoint someone to make decisions for you, it tells medical personnel what to do.

Do I need a Living Will?

That’s entirely up to you. If you have a Health Care Power of Attorney and choose not to have a Living Will, decisions about your end-of-life care will be made by the person you name in your Health Care Power of Attorney. 

If you have a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will, your agent will make decisions for you until you’re terminally ill or permanently unconscious. At that point, your Living Will takes over and instructs doctors how to handle your care.

How do I put a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will in place?

The State of Ohio publishes Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will forms. Some attorneys recommend that people sign the documents without the assistance of an attorney, but we don’t agree. There’re a lot of very important issues that are affected by the documents, and you shouldn’t take the documents lightly! We believe in counseling our clients regarding these documents. It’s important that you understand exactly what you’re signing and how the documents will affect you should be be unable to make health care decisions for yourself.

Do I need a Health Care Power of Attorney if I have a Living Will?

Yes, except in the rarest of circumstances. Only a person who truly doesn’t have anyone to make health care decisions for him or her could get by with only a Living Will. But if a family member shows up, the hospital just might let that person make necessary medical decisions. So in essence, getting by without a Health Care Power of Attorney is a very serious decision and leaves you without a choice about who will make decisions for you. A person in that situation should make absolutely sure there’s no one in his or her life to name as Agent.

If this has created a need to learn more about Advanced Directives and if you need them, give us a call and schedule a time to sit down with one of our attorneys for an honest, no-cost assessment. We can be reached at info@sovelaw.com or 937-985-1843.