Getting Your Healthcare Future in Order for 2021
A new year is a great reason to both reflect on the past and plan for the future. Many people may feel that they only need to make short-term goals and lighthearted resolutions. But the truth is that everyone — chronically-ill individuals and healthy young people alike — should be making a serious plan for their healthcare and related finances. While this may sound daunting and confusing, setting up advance directives and powers of attorney are simple and organized ways to do just that.
What is an advance directive?
Advance directives are legal documents that formalize a person’s wishes in the case that they become terminally ill or so severely injured that they can no longer communicate these wishes themself. The specifics of this documentation can range from the type of preferred medical care to postmortem wishes. It’s common for doctors to discuss advance directives with patients when they are admitted to the hospital, which is why it’s an important topic to think about ahead of time.
Advance directives are not only important for the person they represent, but they also benefit their loved ones. It can be incredibly difficult to know if the correct decisions are being made when a family member is put on life support for an extended period of time and their wishes have not been made known. Many people already have an idea on whether or not they would want their life extended as long as possible or if they would prefer a more natural death. So why not put it into writing to ensure these wishes will be respected when the time comes?
A well-known type of advance directive is a living will, which states the type of medical treatment a person does and does not wish to receive at the end of life.
Another familiar example is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. If a person is unconscious or unable to communicate, this order makes it known that they do not wish to be treated via cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillator (AED), or breathing machines.
Another common type of advance directive is a power of attorney.
What is a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is a legal document that grants a person (the agent) the authority to act on behalf of someone else (the principal). This is often used when a person’s illness or disability prevents them from making their own sound decisions. Similar to the benefits of other advance directives, powers of attorney help people make the best possible decisions for their loved ones and bring peace to family members who might otherwise feel as though they have no control of the situation.
There are various types of powers of attorney that people should be aware of when putting their affairs in order.
There is a durable power of attorney, which effectively gives a person full control of another person’s decisions should they become unable to make them.
A non-durable power of attorney does not have full control of a person’s decisions, rather is used for a specific transaction or set period of time. This could include things like selling a home or signing a document in a person’s absence. The non-durable power of attorney is terminated after that transaction or time period is complete.
A medical power of attorney is particularly important in hospice settings. This gives a person the authority to make difficult medical decisions for another person. The agent essentially takes on the role of patient advocate when that patient loses the ability to communicate.
A limited power of attorney is sometimes referred to as a “special” power of attorney. This gives a person control over specified areas of another person’s life. This could include both medical or financial decisions.
Lastly, there is a springing power of attorney. This is designed to take effect only upon a specific date, condition, or event. While a durable power of attorney takes effect as soon as the document is signed, a springing power of attorney takes effect when the specific date, condition, or event happens.
To whom do these documents apply?
Everyone should make medical plans for the future — even young healthy adults. Accidents happen all the time and they don’t discriminate based on age or current health status. That being said, it’s even more imperative that people who are chronically and terminally ill take the time to set in place their advance directives.
How does one create these documents?
Putting together these documents can be much easier than it might sound. It’s only necessary to put the patient’s wishes in official writing, to use the proper format of the specific type of advance directive, and often to get the document notarized.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization conveniently provides advance directive forms applicable to each state. Anyone can download them here, fill them out, and ensure that all of their future financial and healthcare wishes will be met.
When creating a will, it’s a good idea to view it as a way to protect the subject’s loved ones after the subject has passed. This will often involve selecting beneficiaries, appointing guardians if minor children are involved, and choosing an executor to carry out the will. It’s important to sign the will in front of witnesses and store it somewhere safe with other important documents.
A DNR order should be signed by both the patient and their healthcare provider in case of a situation that involves emergency medical services. This can be displayed via a formalized document that they keep with them. However, if the patient is already being treated inside of a hospital, their wish for a DNR order can be placed on their medical records by hospital staff.
Selecting a power of attorney may be a bit more tricky in the sense that there are the various types to choose from, a specific agent must be selected, and witnesses are necessary. Otherwise, it is similar to a will in that it is very customizable to what the subject would like.
It is never too soon to begin creating these documents. It’s actually very important that it be done as soon as possible so that the subject may instead focus on living their life now. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to review advance directives with every new year.
At Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, self-determination and respecting patients’ and their loved ones’ wishes is a central to our mission. Patients can rest assured that their choices will be honored, even if they are unable to communicate those wishes themselves.
For more information on how Crossroads can support patients at end of life, visit our website or give us a call at 1-888-564-3405.
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