What happens if you don’t have any healthcare documents?
Approximately 75% of Americans die in a hospital or other healthcare facility. In many of these cases, the physician is charged with preserving the patient’s life by whatever means possible. This may or may not be consistent with your personal wishes and belief system. Healthcare documents allow you to exercise control over your healthcare options. If you do not complete healthcare documents, your care will be left to the discretion of the doctor treating you. When a question arises about a serious procedure or life prolonging technique, the doctor may or may not turn to close relatives for consent. However, even if the doctor does turn to a partner or relative for advice, problems can arise if your partner and family members disagree about which treatment is proper. In some situations, these disagreements can wind up in probate court where a judge will be called upon to decide who will choose the course of your treatment (which the court calls your guardian). This can be costly, time consuming, and exceptionally painful to all involved. Healthcare documents can help ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event you cannot make a healthcare decision for yourself.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a Health Care Proxy, gives another person the authority to make health care decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself. The person you name as your health care agent should be someone you trust to carry out your healthcare wishes. This person can be a spouse, relative, or friend. It is important to recognize that the agent you select may have to deal with family members, physicians and others that may be driven by their own beliefs and interests rather than yours. If you feel this may be the case, be certain that your agent will be capable of carrying out your wishes in the face of confrontation. It is also helpful to select a healthcare agent that lives nearby, if possible.
A Living Will, also known as a Declaration, a Directive to Physicians, or a Healthcare Directive, sets out your wishes as to which procedures you would like provided or withheld in the event you are unable to communicate a decision yourself. Once the doctor receives the Living Will, he or she must follow its instructions or transfer you to the care of another doctor who will. Unlike a Healthcare Power of Attorney in which you give someone else the power to make decisions for you, a Living Will allows you to make the decisions yourself.