Navigating Health Care Decisions: Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney Explained

At Wilson & Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law LLC, we understand that facing medical uncertainty can be daunting. Preparing a living will and designating a power of attorney for health care are essential steps in ensuring your wishes are honored when you may not be able to express them yourself. Our knowledgeable team can provide the guidance you need to make informed choices about your medical care preferences.

Understanding Your Living Will

A living will, also known as an advance health care directive, provides clear instructions regarding your medical care if you're unable to communicate. You don't need extensive medical knowledge to complete your living will, but understanding common medical interventions for severe illnesses can be beneficial.

Decisions on Life-Prolonging Treatments

In many states, living wills focus on your preferences for life-prolonging treatments at life's end. These treatments may include blood transfusions, CPR, diagnostic tests, dialysis, drug administration, use of a respirator, and surgical procedures.

For further details, consider discussing these treatments with your physician or a patient liaison, or explore self-help resources for a deeper understanding.

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration

As life draws to an end or if one becomes permanently comatose, artificial nutrition and hydration may be necessary for survival. These are typically delivered through IV feeding for the short term or via tube feeding for an extended duration. Making a decision about whether to accept or refuse such treatment is an integral part of your living will.

Embracing Palliative Care

Opting for a natural death without life-extending interventions doesn't mean sacrificing comfort. Palliative care, or comfort care, focuses on quality of life and alleviating pain, available at home, in a hospice, or in a hospital setting. Inform yourself about palliative care options and outline your preferences in your living will.

DNR and POLST Protocols

For individuals certain about refusing life-prolonging measures, a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order or Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) may be appropriate. These directives ensure your wishes regarding emergency medical procedures are followed. Discuss your options with a medical professional or hospital staff.

Designating a Health Care Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint a trusted individual to oversee your medical decisions should you become unable to do so. You have the freedom to give your health care agent as much or as little authority as you wish, usually with the ability to:

  • Consent or deny consent to treatments that impact your health
  • Employ or discharge medical personnel
  • Determine the best medical facilities for your care
  • Visit you regardless of general visitation restrictions
  • Access your medical and personal information
  • Obtain court authorization to fulfill or refuse medical treatment when necessary
Posthumous Wishes: Organ Donation and Body Disposition

Your health care agent's authority generally ends when you pass away, except in some states where you can allow them to manage the disposition of your body. Ensure these permissions are explicitly stated in your power of attorney document if desired.

Balancing Authority with Personal Autonomy

Remember, as long as you can make and communicate decisions, your health care agent cannot override your wishes. Their role is to act on your behalf when you cannot. While you can restrict your agent's powers, providing them with comprehensive authority can be crucial for adapting to unforeseen medical circumstances.

For personalized assistance in drafting your living will and durable power of attorney for health care, or for any questions regarding estate planning and elder law, contact Wilson & Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law LLC at (708) 482-7090. We offer a consultation to help you prepare for the future with confidence.

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