Advance Care Planning: Conversations, Healthcare Directives, and More

When you are healthy and independent, it can be hard to imagine a life where you cannot make decisions for yourself.  Change, however, can happen suddenly and it is important that you empower your family to speak for you if you have an accident or a serious illness.  Talking with your loved ones now and proactively planning is the best way to ensure that your desires will be respected.

First, it is important to share and talk over your wishes with your family.  You should consider discussing what is important to you for your end-of-life care including what represents a good quality of life to you, what medical treatment do you want (or do not want) to prolong your life, and who would be the best person to enforce your wishes.

Next, it is important to give legal authority to your family by creating an Advance Health Care Directive, sometimes called a Medical Power of Attorney or a Living Will. An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to put your desires in writing about life-sustaining measures if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. In addition a healthcare directive can cover what should happen with your remains.  It is also where you appoint your family member as your agent to enforce your wishes if you cannot do so for yourself.  If you do not prepare an Advance Health Care Directive and you become incapacitated, your family may have to obtain a Conservatorship in order to make decisions for you.  This is a costly and time-consuming process that is challenging for families already are stressed.

Finally, if you are diagnosed with an advanced illness or frailty, you might consider asking your physician for a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (“POLST”) form.  A POLST form is a medical order that tells emergency health care professionals what to do in case of a medical crisis.

There are some key differences between an Advance Health Care Directive and a POLST.  An Advance Health Care Directive is a legal document, whereas a POLST is a medical order.  Since a POLST form is a medical order, first responders can follow the orders during an emergency, whereas if you only have an Advance Health Care Directive, first responders must do everything possible to attempt to save your life.  Then once you are stable, health care professionals will review your directive with the person you named as your agent and decide on a treatment plan based on your wishes that you provided in the directive. An Advance Health Care Directive is the only document that allows you to appoint an agent and can be completed at any point.  A doctor will only complete a POLST form for you if you are seriously ill or frail to the point a health care professional would not be surprised if you died within one year.

For more information on preparing an Advance Health Care Directive, please call (408) 217-2977 to schedule a free consultation.

All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our firm, our services, and the experience of our attorneys. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, and may be subject to change without notice.

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