Why Every Adult Needs an Advance Medical Directive

Apr 16, 2014

Happy National Healthcare Decisions Day!

In honor of this national holiday, I want to share with you some important information about Incapacity Planning.

Understanding Incapacity Planning: Why every Adult needs an Advance Medical Directive

Here in Central Virginia, we have found that many people have heard the terms “Advance Medical Directive” or “end of life” planning but have no idea what it really means.

As your ‘oldest daughter/sibling and family advisor’ I feel there is no subject more important to  educate families  on than end of life planning.  Every time I have the opportunity to talk about estate planning I tell the story about losing my father and having to handle the administration of his death mostly because of his lack of planning.  However, I now have the opportunity to tell families about how thankful I am to my father and mother for both having Advanced Medical Directives.

What is an Advanced Medical Directive?

Generally, the term “advance directive” refers to treatment preferences and the designation of a surrogate decision-maker in the event that someone is unable to make medical decisions on his or her own behalf. Advance directives generally fall into three categories: living will, power of attorney, and health-care proxy.

Living will:  a written document that specifies what types of medical treatment are desired should the individual become incapacitated. A living will can be general or very specific. The most common statement in a living will states that “ if I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued” More specific living wills may include information regarding an individual’s desire for such services such as: pain medication, antibiotics,  artificial (intravenous or IV) hydration, artificial feeding (feeding tube), or  life-support equipment including ventilators etc.

Health-care proxy or Medical Power of Attorney: a legal document in which an individual designates an agent to make healthcare decisions if he or she is rendered incapable of making their wishes known. The healthcare proxy has, in essence, the same rights to request or refuse treatment that the individual would have if capable of making and communicating decisions.

In Virginia, we have put these documents into one document called a Virginia Advanced Medical Directive.  We remind clients and families that more than putting a document in place, it is important to talk to your family members and tell them your wishes regarding health care decisions. Letting your family know your wishes is the most important thing you can do for your planning.  Although it’s relatively uncommon, serious legal fights can arise out of end-of-life situations. Though estate litigation is often necessary, it can be very damaging to family relationships, not to mention costly and time-consuming.

If you don’t have one already, NOW is a great time to complete your Advance Medical Directive!

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