The Advance Directive (the “AD”) is another extremely important document to have prepared during the estate planning process along with a will, trust and a durable general power of attorney. An AD is a witnessed, written document where you give instructions regarding your preferences for treatment in the event that you become incapacitated. In addition, you appoint someone to become your decision maker for you in the event you are determined to be incapable of making your own decisions by your medical team. The person you appoint is referred to as your agent, and they have the authority to act on your behalf. This may include the authority to withhold or withdraw life prolonging procedures if you are suffering from a condition that is incurable, irreversible, or is a terminal condition.
One of the most important considerations you make when drafting an AD is your choice of agent. The agent you choose to make medical decisions for you may be different than the agent you choose to make financial decisions for you. Conversations with family members are a good way to explain your choice of agent, and for your family to understand your care preferences. These conversations can also help prevent family disagreements in the event your agent has to act under the AD. This is crucial, because family discord can result in deviations from the treatment preferences you designated in your AD and can disrupt family relationships — possibly forever — at a time when they most need each other’s emotional support.
You should take a copy of your AD with you whenever you visit a hospital, nursing facility, or other health care settings. Doing so informs your physician of your treatment preferences immediately, and can help reduce the risk that you undergo a medical procedure that you would not have authorized. Unfortunately, there may come a time when a health care professional ignores your AD. This is another reason your choice of agent is important. An agent who will not be intimidated by medical professionals and who will represent your wishes as expressed in your AD can help ensure that the doctors and nurses respect your AD.
As with your other estate planning documents, it is important that your AD is prepared by a legal professional and discussed with your physician. An attorney will be able to draft an AD that reflects your personal preferences regarding future medical care and what options are available to you, including Do Not Resuscitate, Do Not Intubate, and Do Not Hospitalize orders. Finally, because the role of agent comes with a number of responsibilities, you should discuss your choices with your attorney.