When you visit your doctor, you have the opportunity to make informed choices about your healthcare. Whether it’s a prescription to treat high blood pressure or hypertension or something more serious like cancer, you’ll discuss these things with your healthcare provider before beginning or changing any treatment.
When you are incapacitated and can’t speak for yourself, getting medical care becomes complicated. This could happen with an event like a stroke, a car accident, or other health events that renders you unable to speak for yourself. Even if you tell your spouse, children, or other next of kin your wishes, they may not remember them. Worse, the attending physician may refuse to listen to them. There is one step you can take to speak for yourself prior to a medical emergency.
The Healthcare Directive
Also called a “living will,” a “healthcare power of attorney,” plus a few other names, this document leaves written instructions for your healthcare in the event you are unable to make these decisions. Created in advance to anticipate disability, it is separate and different from the will that is activated at the moment of death.
This document lets you appoint someone to become your healthcare agent and make the decisions on your behalf. You give this person permission to use their own judgment about what you need and about what you would agree to. Not all situations can be anticipated and provided for, and many will need someone to speak for them.
What’s important is that this advance directive must be in writing, and done in advance of a debilitating event.
Everyone Should Have One
You might think that the healthcare directive is just something for older people planning their end-of-life care. It is, but is also important for everyone, before or after age 65.
A potential end-of-life situation can happen at any time to anyone, requiring a fast decision, in circumstances such as:
- Car or other vehicular crashes (motorcycle, bus, boat, public transit, etc.)
- Accidents on the job
- Other types of injuries that involve unconsciousness
- Sudden onset illness, such as appendicitis, COVID-19, or pneumonia
- An adverse effect of a prescribed drug
- Previously undetected health issues, such as heart issues, that requires immediate medical intervention
Making advance decisions for every situation is impossible, so naming a healthcare agent (or two) is a strong safeguard for getting the healthcare you need if you’re unable to speak up for yourself.
Selecting Your Healthcare Agent
If this happens to a person who is legally single hasn’t selected a healthcare agent, there’s no way of knowing what the patient would or would not choose for healthcare. That means doctors and family members may be required to make a decision that may not be what the patient wishes.
Without a healthcare agent, family members will make decisions instead of someone close to them, such as a couple in a civil union, or a couple simply living together long term. (Legal “domestic partnerships” no longer exist in Illinois.)
For an individual who prefers not to have family members involved in their medical decision-making, it’s vital to have a healthcare directive in place to ensure that their partner is their agent. This keeps any estranged family members out of the decision process.
Recommendations For Directives
You should have at least one successor, or backup agent, in the event that your primary agent is unable to make decisions for you, such as both parties in a car accident. If you do not have anyone you feel you can trust with healthcare decisions, discuss this with all of your healthcare providers. Ask your attorney for suggestions on who else might be suitable.
These directives must be in writing and witnessed by at least one person. The document doesn’t have to be notarized.
You should, of course, speak with your agents beforehand, and discuss your healthcare wishes with them. Once you’ve completed the directive and signed it with a witness, give copies to all of your healthcare agents and your physician(s).
If applicable, consider showing the document to your family members in advance, even if they aren’t agents, if they might be providing care.
And if you are headed to a hospital, take at least one copy with you if you are able.
You can change your mind later if needed, and write a new one, as long as it’s properly witnessed. Notify everyone involved and provide updated copies of your directive.
Let Provenza Law Help With Advance Directives
When you’re not able to make those decisions on your own, a directive will make sure your wishes are carried out when you can’t speak for yourself. You can also select an advocate and ensure that he or she is contacted and involved.
James C. Provenza & Associates has more than 20 years of experience helping people in the Chicago area with healthcare directives and other important estate planning work. For healthcare directives or any type of power of attorney, speak with Chicago attorney James C. Provenza, by calling today at (847) 729-3939.