Advanced Health Care Directives: Overlooked but Important Estate Planning Documents

advanced healthcare directives

“Advanced health care directive” is a commonly used term for a living will (a form of advance directive, leaving instructions for treatment) and a health care proxy (a specific type of power of attorney), in which a person authorizes someone (an agent) to make decisions on their behalf (the principal) when they are incapacitated.

The following are some key points:

  1. If you do not have an advance-health care directive in place, get one.  Make sure your loved ones—including your children over the age of 18—have advance health-care directives too.
  2. Learn all you can about the options that can be written into your advance health-care directive.  These are not “one size fits all” documents.  Your wishes may differ greatly from those of your friends and family members, and the document you sign should express your particular desires.
  3. If you have an advance health-care directive that is more than 5 years old, there is a good chance that it will not accomplish what you think it will.  Review it right away with your legal counsel.  Make any appropriate changes and updates.
  4. If you want to give a trusted family member or friend the power to make health-care decisions for you, make sure the power of attorney coordinates well with any other instructions you may want to provide.
  5. Be sure to give your health-care providers your permission to give your medical information to your family members or other trusted decision makers.  Federal and State privacy laws can restrict your doctor from talking with your health-care agent unless you specifically grant that permission.
  6. Review your advance health-care directive periodically to make sure it accurately states your current wishes.  Once per year is not too often.
  7. Make sure you have a mechanism in place for giving you access to your advance health-care directive, no matter when or where an emergency might occur.  Not all health problems happen in the home, and if you have a crisis situation while you are travelling, you will need a way to make your health-care documents accessible to your caregivers.
  8. Talk with your family about your wishes BEFORE a crisis arises.  Make sure everybody is on the same page.  If your chosen decision makers indicate hesitation about carrying out your wishes, think about naming someone who will.  Your assurance to your loved ones of how seriously you intend your instructions to be taken will give them the courage to carry them out.