Advanced directives are for end-of-life care as well as periods of temporary incapacity. Most people believe they are just for frail elderly people. But nearly anyone can be in an incapacitated state where they are unable to speak for themselves.
You’ve probably heard the term “advanced directives” but might not know what they mean exactly. You may know this by another term, which means the same thing:
- Living Will
- Medical Directive
- Healthcare Directive
This document or documents spell out what you want should you become incapacitated, or incapable of specifying what medical treatments you do or don’t want.
Why Everyone Needs An Advanced Directive
Whether you’re 18 or 80, an advanced directive allows someone else to speak for you, and understand what you want and don’t want.
A person in a nursing home or other care facility needs to let both loved ones and staff know what they want when the time comes. That could be six months to two or more years from today, depending on the individual’s circumstances.
Car, workplace, and other types of accidents can lead to incapacitation, leaving someone unable to understand or otherwise incapacitated. Medical conditions such as COVID-19, strokes, and heart attacks can also lead to a person being rendered unable to speak.
Modern medical technology can keep a terminally ill or injured younger person alive and in a coma for much longer than before. Not everyone would want to live in a vegetative state for decades but have no way to indicate their wishes. Without written instructions, that’s exactly what can happen. In any of these scenarios, an advanced directive can make a world of difference.
How An Advanced Directive Works
Much like a will, an advanced directive is created in advance of an adverse health incident that renders you unable to speak or make decisions. This is why it’s sometimes called a “living will.”
This document gives instructions to family, friends, and healthcare professionals about what to do if you are in a permanent vegetative state, or in the process of dying. The directive includes instructions such as:
- Tissue and organ donation at the time of death
- Fluids and feeding by tube
You can find additional information on advanced directives from:
- The National Institutes of Health
- The Mayo Clinic
- The AARP
- The American Bar Association
- The National Caregiver Library
Having these documents and resources ready before you become incapacitated will make it easier for your loved ones to make the right decisions and help avoid mistakes.
Healthcare Agents Or “Proxies”
This is someone you name in the directive to be your advocate or proxy. This can be a spouse, an adult child, sibling, or other relatives, but doesn’t have to be. A longtime partner, who may be closer to you than a relative, can also be an agent, as long as you name them in writing in the directive.
A power of attorney is also required to formally designate your healthcare proxy or proxies.
The proxy must be someone you trust to make the right decisions for you. Prior to creating the directive, you need to discuss these wishes with the individual before creating the directive, and long before you need it.
If you do not have an advanced directive already, healthcare providers will turn to family members to make those decisions. A close family member, such as a spouse, sibling, parent, or adult child, can make “substituted judgment” on your behalf.
This becomes problematic if you are divorced, estranged from family members, or are in an unmarried relationship without anything in writing. Illinois does not have a common-law marriage, so a longtime partner will not be allowed to intervene without a directive naming them as an agent or proxy. Think about what would happen if a distant relative you aren’t friendly with is requested to make vital healthcare decisions for you.
Let Provenza Law Help With Advance Directives
When you’re not able to make important decisions for yourself, an advance directive will make sure your wishes are carried out as if you can. You can also select an advocate and ensure that he or she is contacted and involved, and will ensure that the instructions are followed.
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.