End-of-life issues can be extremely complex, and many people avoid making decisions about how such issues will be handled because it can be an uncomfortable and difficult subject to address. However, it is crucial that you do spend time thinking about how you want your final days to play out, both for your own personal comfort and for the well-being of your loved ones.
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At the very least, strongly consider making a living will and determining who you want to grant a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions.
The Living Will
A living will is a document that sets forth what to do, and what not to do, if you are incapacitated and unable to make those decisions. This could be because you are in a coma, suffered a debilitating injury, or because you have become seriously mentally incapacitated. Here are some of the most basic considerations to account for in your living will:
- Life-Prolonging Medical Care: Your living will should state whether you want to receive life-prolonging treatments at the end of your life. Typical treatments include blood transfusions, respirators, dialysis, drug treatment and surgery.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Directives: In conjunction with directives about whether you want to receive life-prolonging medical care, most living wills will state whether or not you want to be resuscitated (CPR) at the end of your life. It is advisable to let your doctor and local hospital know about your DNR decisions and, if you do not want paramedics to try to resuscitate you, to wear a Medic Alert bracelet, anklet or necklace with those instructions.
- Life-Prolonging Food and Water: Often, if someone is comatose or seriously injured, they will only be able to survive through the external administration of food and water. When such treatment is stopped, the patient will die naturally of dehydration and medical professionals will typically apply medication to make such a passing comfortable. You should specify whether you want to receive food and water, under what conditions and timelines you would like to receive such treatment and when to stop it.
- Pain Management: Even if you decide you want to let death occur naturally, without intervening care, it does not mean you have to die with pain. Now commonly called comfort care or palliative care, the goal of such care is to emphasize qualify of life and dignity by keeping the patient comfortable and free of pain until they pass. Specify in your living will if you want doctors to emphasize pain management at the end of your life.
Power of Attorney for Healthcare
It can be extremely helpful to give someone a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions. You can give this person as much or as little power as you like, but if you aren’t specific, most states will give them comprehensive power over your end-of-life medical decisions. For example, someone with a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions will typically have:
- The power to offer or deny consent for medical treatments so long as it doesn’t disagree with anything in your living will.
- The power to decide what medical facilities you should go to.
- The power to decide which doctors and medical personnel you should see.
- The power to go to court over whether to receive or withhold medical treatment.
- The power to decide how your body will be handled after death, often including organ donation. If you have specific feelings on these matters, write them into your living will. Living wills always trump the decisions of your power of attorney designee concerning your healthcare.
- Access to your medical records.
- Visitation rights.
You can give a person complete authority to make all decisions, or limit them significantly to make only specific decisions. Be careful when greatly limiting such power, however, because the primary reason to have such a person is because your living will cannot cover every possibility. If you want specificity, it is better to do that in your living will, which the person with a durable power of attorney cannot override.
Need a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney? An Estate Planning Attorney Can Help
Imagine suffering from a massive stroke, resulting in the inability to move your body or even speak, and thus unable to convey your wishes to doctors or other caretakers. That is what living wills and powers of attorney are meant to remedy. But it’s important to get ahead of the curve while you’re healthy and lucid. Learn more about your health care and end-of-life legal options by speaking with an estate planning attorney near you today. You can also use our state-specific, easy-to-use power of attorney form to help you get started. An attorney can review your completed form and ensure it meets your needs.