If you are like most people, you take for granted your ability to make decisions for yourself on a daily basis. Although you have likely never given it much thought, you probably make thousands of personal decisions every day. From the mundane to the life-changing, what all those decisions have in common is that you were able to make them for yourself. What would happen though, if you were suddenly unable to make any decisions for yourself? Because that could happen, the estate planning lawyers at Morris Hall PLLC explain the importance of having an advance directive in your estate plan.
If You Failed to Plan
As we age, the natural aging process itself eventually causes physical and mental deterioration. For one out of three seniors, however, Alzheimer’s or another age-related dementia condition may completely rob them of the ability to make important health care decisions at some point. If you develop Alzheimer’s down the road, someone will have to make health care decisions for you. Eventually, those decisions will include end-of-life health care decisions, such as whether or not to keep you alive using artificial nutrients and machines.
If you did not execute an advance directive earlier in your life, someone will likely need to petition a court for guardianship over you in order to obtain the legal right to make health care decisions on your behalf. Not only could that turn into a bitter court battle if more than one person feels they are entitled to make those decisions, but the court may appoint someone you would not want making decisions for you. Ultimately, your wishes with regard to end-of-life medical care and treatment could be completely ignored.
Before you assume that you don’t yet need to worry about a surrogate decision-maker because you are still relatively young, remember that age-related dementia is not the only way to end up incapacitated. A tragic car accident or debilitating illness could leave you in essentially the same predicament tomorrow. Anytime a patient is incapacitated, someone else must make health care decisions for that patient. With that in mind, do not make the mistake of operating on the assumption that only the elderly need to worry about incapacity.
What Is an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive is a legal document that allows you to make important decisions relating to your own healthcare and treatment ahead of time so that if you are ever in a position where you cannot express your wishes they are already reduced to writing in the form of a legally binding document. Each individual state decides which advance directives if any, it will recognize. Each state also decides when an advance directive becomes applicable and what language must be used in the document for it to be valid.
Most states, including recognize two basic types of advance directives, one that allows the creator to make health care decisions ahead of time and one that allows the creator to appoint an Agent to make decisions for him/her. a Power of Attorney for Health Care, lets you name someone (your “Agent”) to make decisions about your health care—including decisions about life support if you can no longer speak for yourself. The authority of your Agent can activate any time you are unable to make your own decisions, not only at the end of your life. A Power of Attorney for Health Care goes into effect when your doctor and one other qualified health professional determine that you no longer have the ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of proposed health care and you are unable to make and communicate an informed health care decision.
The second type of advance directive offered in is known as “Instructions for Health Care.” This version of a “living Will” and it allows you to state your wishes about health care in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself and:
- you have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in death within a relatively short time, or
- you become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, will not regain consciousness, or
- the likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits.
Contact Estate Planning Lawyers
If you have additional questions or concerns about incorporating an advance directive into your estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning lawyers at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your free consultation today.