It’s a scenario most people don’t want to think about: they can no longer care for themselves. This is called incapacity. Incapacity may come about post-accident or if you develop a debilitating disease, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s. A comprehensive estate plan needs to include planning ahead for incapacity. If you become incapacitated through illness, accident, or injury, you may not be able to make the necessary decisions for yourself.
In the state of Illinois, you can execute advanced directives. These documents clearly state your wishes for healthcare and appoint your advocate should you become unable to do anything yourself.
The Advanced Directives
There are a few types of advanced directives: Living Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration, and Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) and Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) These types of documents allow you to instruct/ direct your doctor which medical treatments you do and do not want depending on your prognosis for recovery. It becomes effective when you are unable to communicate. If you’re in a serious accident, you suffer an illness, or you otherwise become mentally unfit to make a healthcare decision, these directives will ensure that your wishes are followed.
The Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration states whether you want to receive electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) or psychotropic medicine when you have a mental illness and are unable to make these decisions for yourself. The DNR and POLST basically say that healthcare professionals cannot use CPR if your heart and/or breathing stops.
For example, if you were in an accident and are now unconscious, your directive will help guide family members and physicians as to what you would want medically if you could speak. You can change or update your healthcare directives as needed.
The Living Will
A Living Will is a form of a healthcare directive. In Illinois (Illinois Statute 755ILCS 35), the State recognizes a person has a fundamental right to control decisions concerning their own medical care. A person may make a written declaration of those decisions. The Living Will is implemented when death isn’t preventable. It allows you to designate what treatments you would and would not want, such as pain management, tube feeding, ventilation, CPR, etc., and to instruct your doctor to withhold or withdraw death delaying treatment.
The living can also detail your wishes for organ donation, willed body donation, and other end-of-life decisions.
The Healthcare Power of Attorney
This document allows you to appoint someone to be your healthcare advocate if you become incapacitated. This person then can talk with doctors and make decisions about medical tests and treatment on your behalf.
This type of POA can also give the selected agent the power to:
• Examine your medical records
• Discuss your medical care with your providers
• Hire (and fire) medical staff who would be responsible for your care
• Check you into or out of medical facilities as needed
Because this individual wields a considerable amount of power over your wellbeing and care, it’s important to carefully select a person you trust. This person does not have to be a member of your family. You do want a person who can make decisions on your behalf even if your wishes differ philosophically from their own and who can be calm in an emergency or quickly changing medical situation.
The Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney (POA) allows you to designate someone to handle your financial affairs during a period of incapacitation. This may or may not be the same person responsible for your healthcare decisions. The durable power of attorney gives your agent permission to pay bills, file taxes, and handle other financial matters while you are unable to do so. Done correctly, your financial affairs won’t be impacted. For example, you might designate one of your children, assuming they are financially organized and trustworthy, because your own spouse may be too overwhelmed by your medical condition to worry about paying bills or filing the tax return.
Planning for the Unexpected
Reasonably, every adult needs to have these documents in place because planning for incapacity means planning for the unexpected. Nobody plans to be in a coma or contract a viral disease, but it happens. Incapacity and end-of-life situations can be less devastating when plans are made. By having the right documents in place, you won’t leave your loved ones scrambling to figure out what to do or what you would have wanted.
The Mayo Clinic has additional information on advance directives and other important healthcare documents.
Get Help From a Chicago Estate Planning Attorney
Living wills, advanced healthcare directives, and the financial power of attorneys are all tools to make your wishes known if you are incapacitated. You get to appoint the people you trust and discuss with them your wishes. They can then make the correct decisions on your behalf when can’t speak for yourself.
With more than 20 years of experience helping hundreds of individuals with their estate plans throughout Chicago, James C. Provenza & Associates will work with you and develop the estate plan that works best for you. For help with advanced directives and estate planning, speak with attorney James C. Provenza, by calling today at (847) 729-3939.