- - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Living wills, also known as “inter vivos trusts,” “advance directives” or “health care directives,” are documents that express preferences and desires regarding medical treatments of a person if they are unable to communicate their wishes due to permanent unconsciousness or an illness that is terminal. According to research there is overwhelming public support for advance directives, however, only about one in four Americans ever completes one.

Even among the critically ill – few people use them. It can provide great comfort and control during difficult times as it helps people who want to avoid artificial life support in addition to other more advanced medical procedures to sustain life — so they can have a natural death. It also includes key understandings like organ donation, artificial resuscitation and tube feeding. It is a valuable tool to help loved ones going through the season and process to honor advance directives … the documented special “wishes.”

These wills are not just a choice for the sick or the elderly: They are an important choices for anyone – as we understand that anyone can end up dealing with accidents or sudden illnesses. Interestingly, research underscores that having a having a candid discussion is important in the process. Let’s continue the dialogue.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Living Wills and Proxy Directives

What is a living will?
A legal document that informs your health care providers and family about your wishes regarding medical treatments in the event that you are not able to speak for yourself or a physician has determined that you are unable to understand your diagnosis and therapeutic options.

It also allows you to include a description of your beliefs, values, and general care and treatment preferences in the event that your living will does not specifically cover a particular situation. A living will can also be referred to as an advance directive or health care directive.

What is a proxy directive?
Also known as a durable power of attorney for health care, it is a legal document that allows you to appoint a person (health care representative) to make health care decisions for you based upon your wishes in the event that you are not able to speak for yourself. In the event that they are unsure of what you want in a specific situation, they would base their decision on what they believe is in your best interest.

What is the difference between a living will and a proxy directive?
A living will expresses an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment. These wishes are to be followed if the individual is unable to provide instructions at the time medical decisions need to be made. The health care proxy gives the authority to another person (the health care representative) to make medical decisions in the event that the patient cannot do so. It is often beneficial to utilize both a living will and a health care proxy because you may be in a specific situation where the treating physician cannot interpret your living will.

Is it expensive to complete these forms?
An attorney can assist with preparing the documents, and it is often included when estate planning documents are drawn up.

It is a little know fact that you your state offers forms for free. Check with your Department of Health website for more details.

Who should have a copy of these documents?
Copies should be provided to your health care representative, family members and physicians. Anytime you are admitted to a hospital you will also have the opportunity to provide a copy.

How should I choose my health care representative?
The representative must be an adult. They can be a spouse, adult child, family member, friend, religious adviser, or domestic partner. A physician can be appointed as a health care representative as long as they are not actively treating you (to avoid any conflict of interest). Consider choosing someone who can understand your values and preferences and therefore make decisions that you would want them to make. You also need to talk with the representative and clearly express your wishes. Do not place them in a situation where they will feel guilty for making a decision that they are unsure of.

Research also confirms that while you will want others to help make the decisions, it is unlikely that others will be able to predict you better than you can express yourself. One way to ensure desires about end-of-life medical care are carried out is to put them in writing with a living will. And it is true, wishes can change and documents can be updated as discussions continue.

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