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Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Wills

No one wants to contemplate becoming seriously ill or disabled, but the reality is this difficult subject needs to be addressed with spouses, significant others and family members. It is important to make decisions regarding what wishes are while healthy.  The Arizona Secretary of State allows you to register, free of charge, living wills and medical power of attorneys on their web site.  Simply go to Advanced Directives and follow the easy steps to register health care directives.  Medical professionals and care providers have ready access to comply with health care directions.  Always make sure family members are fully informed regarding healthcare choices.

What are Health Care Directives?

These are documents such as living wills and medical powers of attorney that inform medical providers what type of care to provide if a person is unable to make medical decisions. These, typically, are prepared prior to becoming ill.  All designations must be made while the person has full mental capacity.  A health care directive may have greater scope than a living will, as it is not necessarily limited to just terminal illness or it may be narrower, if it is used in relation to a particular surgery at a specific hospital.  There are many serious decisions to consider prior to completing a health care directive.  Again, it is important to discuss these decisions with both family members and medical providers.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is simply one type of advance directive. It usually becomes effective if a person is terminally ill or had an accident from which it is unlikely they will recover.  The high profile file case regarding a patient’s right to die involved Terry Schiavo.  If she had prepared a living will, her wishes – whatever they were – would have been clear and would have been followed.  If this relatively simple documentation had been completed, her family likely would have been saved years of emotional anguish and expensive litigation.  A living will specifies exactly what type of treatment should be provided and what treatment should be withheld, including life-sustaining treatment.  Again, a living will may have a more limited application than a general health care directive.

Health Care (Medical) Power of Attorney

A healthcare or medical Power of Attorney selects someone to make medical decisions is an individual becomes incapacitated or unable to make medical decisions.  It also may or may not include HIPPA language that allows medical professionals to discuss confidential medical information with a designated person.  The person appointed is called an Agent and it is critical that agent is provided with clear direction to carry out the person’s wishes.  It is also a good idea to appoint an alternate agent, as occasionally, the individual appointed as agent, due to their personal feelings or due to unforeseen circumstances is unable to make the necessary decisions. The secondary party, the alternate agent, will provide guidance to the healthcare professionals.  A common example might involve a spouse being unable to carry out the wishes of their terminally ill spouse.  The alternate agent is able to step in and make the difficult decisions.  When selecting an agent for a power of attorney, it is good time to discuss organ donation.  While donor status may have been elected on an Arizona driver’s license, family members have the right to override donor elections.

These are difficult conversations to have.  Formalizing final wishes with certainty and clarity provides peace of mind.  Free health care forms including Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney are provided by the State of Arizona.  An estate planning attorney can also assist in preparation of health care directives.

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