Too often, we get busy with our lives and fail to plan for the future. Even when we take time to plan for retirement, we often overlook the importance of estate planning. What many fail to understand is why having Living Wills, Powers of Attorney for Healthcare and a DNR decision is something important to consider. While most of us believe our families know what our wishes are, it is best to have them in writing to avoid loved ones needing to make a decision when emotions are running high — such as after you have been involved in an accident, or you are otherwise incapacitated. Towards that end, there are some facts you should know about some of the most common estate planning tools at your disposal.
Understanding Living Wills
Sometimes these documents are referred to as an Advance Medical Directive. It is important to understand how a living will is used, and what it will not be used for. First, a living will is only used in the event you are unable to communicate with your medical team and advise them of what steps they should take to perform life-saving medical procedures. The specific language contained in a living will shows exactly what must occur for the living will to become effective. Specifically, these documents state:
If at any time I should have an incurable injury, disease or illness, or be in a continual profound comatose state with no reasonable chance of recovery, certified to be a terminal and irreversible condition by two physicians who have personally examined me, one of whom shall be my attending physician, and the physicians have determined that my death will occur whether or not life-sustaining procedures are utilized and where the application of life-sustaining procedure would serve only to prolong artificially the dying process, I direct . . .
Living wills also cover important information for your medical team which directs or forbids them to take specific actions. For example, if your condition is terminal, your living will also go further and directs whether you will receive invasive nutrition and hydration support, normally through the use of intravenous and feeding tubes. Living wills also direct your medical team on the use of pain medication to ensure you are not suffering in your last days.
A properly executed living will ensures you have control over your medical care when you are faced with a life-ending disease or injury. Rather than depend on your family to recall your wishes pertaining to organ donation or end of life care, these documents clearly spell out your wishes.
What You Should Know About Healthcare Powers of Attorney
Unlike a living will, these powers of attorney can be exercised at any time you are unable to communicate with your healthcare team. Examples of this would include if you fell and suffered a concussion which resulted in your losing consciousness, you were involved in an auto accident and were unable to speak, or in any circumstances where medical authorization would be required to perform any procedure and you are unable to communicate.
It is also important for you to understand the wishes expressed in your Living Will are to be held up by the person you designate as your health care proxy or agent. Remember, this person only has the authority to control medical procedures or treatments when you are not suffering a terminal illness. This means if you are taken to an emergency room and have no ability to communicate, they will authorize the team there to treat your injuries. Treatment may include surgery, tests, or medication depending on the extent of your injuries.
When you decide who your healthcare agent should be, you should make them aware of other documents you may have executed including a Living Will and DNR order. Taking this step will help ensure your wishes are carried out in the event your injuries are life-threatening. You are free to change health care agents at any time, and as in the case of a Living Will, you also have the right to modify your healthcare power of attorney at any time.
Important Facts About DNR Orders
Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders are used when your heart stops beating. These orders are designed prohibit medical teams from stepping in and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through person-to-person or mechanical means. These orders will only be used by a physician when you are critically ill and CPR is only prolonging your life.
You should also be aware these orders are used only after checking with the agent named in your Healthcare Power of Attorney. If you do not have a DNR order on file, doctors are mandated to use all measures to save your life, regardless of how invasive those measures may be. While someone who is young may not need a DNR, patients who have a terminal illness or are elderly and not in the best of health may wish to have one on file.
Living Wills, Powers of Attorney and DNRS Legalities
You should be aware none of these documents are valid in Louisiana unless they are properly executed and witnessed. Additionally, each person who has these orders on file should regularly review their choices and make changes if they wish to. In some instances, people have orders on file and later decide to change their minds about some specifics. This would involve drafting new documents, having new ones signed, and making sure your family is familiar with your wishes.
Estate Planning is Important for Everyone
You may not think these documents are essential for your personal situation. However, the time to have some of these documents on file is well before they are needed. For example, if you were involved in a car accident tomorrow and needed life-saving surgery you need someone to approve that surgery. While a spouse, or a parent of a minor child, may make that decision for you, if you are single and above the age of majority you need someone prepared to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today
You may think an estate planning attorney is not a necessity. However, if you draft any of these important healthcare documents on your own, you run a risk of not having the proper signatures and authorizations you need to make them enforceable. This is why you should contact Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC today, at 504-523-6496 for all your medical care planning — not wait until it is too late and you cannot communicate on your own.