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Advance Health Care Directive

Who makes the legal decisions for your health care when you are unable to?


An Advance Health Care Directive is a legal document in which you name another person as your agent to make health care decisions for you. This is a durable power of attorney for health care and is exactly the same as any other durable power of attorney except that it pertains only to your health care, not financial matters.

What health care issues are included in an Advanced Health Care Directive?

You can include instructions about the types of medical treatments you want – or don’t want. The directive may include such things as your personal goals, values and preferences; the types of medical treatment you would want – or don’t want; how you want your agent to make decisions; where you want to receive care; instructions about artificial nutrition and hydration; mental health treatments; organ donations; funeral arrangements; and who you would like to have as a conservator of your person if one is to be appointed for you. You can be as general or as specific as you like, because it is your directive to your designated agent.

Who should be my agent for health care?

This is a very important question. Whoever you decide to name as your agent under your durable power of attorney for health care, it should be someone you know very well. It should also be someone you respect and someone whose judgment you value. Moreover, the person you name as your agent should be somewhat knowledgeable about medical issues, although it’s not necessary that this person have any medical training. This person should also have a good understanding of who you are and what your values and feelings are. After all, this person could be stepping into your shoes to make the very difficult medical decisions that you would have to make for yourself if you were able to do so.

Can I name more than one agent to act for me?

Yes. You can appoint as many agents as you would like. However, if you appoint more than one agent, then you should specify whether each agent can act separately or whether they all must act collectively. There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of appointment. Requiring your agents to act collectively can safeguard the soundness of their decisions, but it may be very difficult for all of them to agree on every decision. If any one of them can make decisions for you, that may be much easier to get things done, but it may also cause serious disagreements among them if they are not told in advance. Another option is to appoint only one agent, with another named as an alternate in case the first named agent is unable to act for you.

Where should I store these documents?

You should inform your family members, your attorney, your personal physician, and each person you have designated as either your health care agent or your conservator for future incapacity. In fact, it’s advisable that you discuss these important decisions with these people before you even sign the documents.

You should keep the originals in a safe place, particularly one that is free of any potential water or fire damage. It is also a good idea to give copies of these documents to the people who are most likely to need this information when the time comes, particularly your attorney and your personal physician. In fact, you should give a copy to your physician so that it can be placed in your medical file.

Will Advance Health Care Directive documents be valid in other states?

Yes, these documents are valid in all 50 states as long as they are valid in the state in which they are executed. However, if you move permanently to another state, it’s a good idea to review these documents to insure that they fully comply with that state’s requirements.

How long will my advance directives last?

There is no time limit for these documents.  Generally, advance directives last until you change them or terminate them. You may change them at any time and as often as you need to by simply signing new documents. It is always a good idea to destroy your old documents so that they aren’t confused with your new ones. You may also terminate them at any time by:

Signing a written statement to that effect.

Destroying the original and all copies.

What is artificial nutrition and hydration?

Artificial nutrition and hydration refers to the use of artificial means to feed and hydrate a person who is not able to eat and drink on his or her own. It generally includes giving food and water through an intravenous catheter (commonly called an “IV”) or through a nasogastric tube.

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