What are Advanced Care Directives?
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What are Advanced Care Directives?

Why should I create an Advanced Care Directive? What are the purposes of Advanced Care Directives? In this article, we'll outline everything you need to know about Advanced Care Directives! Keep reading to learn more!

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Estate planning is not just about ensuring you have a final Will and Testament. The process also includes making decisions about your future medical care. Although nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of serious medical problems, thinking about your preferences can help alleviate your anxiety by giving you control over your medical care. In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about advanced care directives.

What is Advanced Care Planning?

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Advance care planning involves discussing and preparing for future decisions about your medical care if you become seriously ill or unable to communicate your wishes."  The first step in advanced care planning is having conversations with your family and friends about your preferences. The second step is memorializing your wishes through a legal document called an "advance directive."

What is an Advanced Care Directive?

An advanced care directive is a legal document that allows you to state your wishes for medical care in the event that you become unable to make decisions for yourself. It should contain instructions about your desired medical treatment and the appointment of a healthcare proxy to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. It is vital to have an advanced care directive in place, as it ensures that your wishes are carried out even if you are unable to communicate them yourself. It can also give you peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will not have to make difficult decisions about your care without your input.

There are several types of advanced care directives, including:

  • Durable Power of Attorney

  • Living Will 

  • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders

What is an Ordinary Power of Attorney?

Knowing the difference between an Ordinary Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney is important. A legal document called a "power of attorney" appoints someone else to handle your legal, medical, or financial affairs. You'll often see this referred to as a "general" power of attorney. These general legal documents cover many types of legal transactions, and they expire if some event happens.  So, let's say you are overseas and want your sister to handle your real estate transactions while you are abroad. You can give her an ordinary power of attorney that will expire on a specific date, after a transaction is complete, or in the event you become incapacitated. You can appoint any adult to be your power of attorney.

What is a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney?

In contrast, a power of attorney is said to be "durable" when you want it to continue to be in effect when you become incapacitated. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney is a legal form you use if you experience an emergency health event. A durable power of attorney authorizes an agent to handle financial and legal matters for you, but it includes unique wording that makes it effective even if you become incapacitated. The purpose of a durable POA is to plan for medical emergencies, cognitive decline later in life, or other situations where you're no longer capable of making decisions. 

It is essential to ensure that the Health Care Power of Attorney includes provisions compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). These provisions authorize medical care providers to disclose your protected health information to their designated agents. Healthcare providers are legally restricted from sharing information, even with family members, without a clear authorization under HIPAA. If you decide to execute a Health Care Power of Attorney, you should give a copy to your healthcare providers. Keep other copies where you might need them, such as in your car, apartment, or dorm room. You can also give a copy to the person you designate as your agent. 

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will, also known as a Health Care Directive, allows you to say what you want to happen if you ever need end-of-life care. This document may be separate or incorporated within the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The Living Will outlines the medical treatments that you would want or would not want to prolong your life. You can also use this form to make decisions about organ donation. The decisions you make in this document will help guide the agent you designated in the Health Care Power of Attorney. Your agent will also give it to the health care provider in case of an emergency or severe health condition.

What are Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment?

 POLST stands for "Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment." It is a medical document that outlines a patient's medical treatment preferences in emergencies. A POLST is designed to directly communicate a patient's wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments, medical interventions, and end-of-life care to healthcare professionals, ensuring that those wishes are followed. What kind of situations does a POLST cover? Decisions like whether to use CPR, whether to be placed on a breathing machine, and whether you want to be transferred to a hospital. A POLST must be signed by someone on your healthcare team, like your doctor. Without a POLST, emergency medical technicians (EMT) will do whatever is necessary to keep you alive.

What is a "Do Not Resuscitate" Order?

 A "do not resuscitate order" is a medical directive that indicates a person's wish to not receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing. CPR involves chest compressions, rescue breathing, and sometimes electrical shocks to restart the heart. A DNR order informs healthcare professionals that the person does not want these life-saving measures performed in the event of cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.

To complete your estate plan, include an advanced directive letting your care team and family know your wishes. You can use FastWill to create valid legal documents that align with your situation.

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