The Basics of Advance Directives

“Putting your wishes in writing can relieve a tremendous burden for your loved ones.” Life Choices, published by the Office of the Missouri Attorney General.

Advance directives are written, legal documents that explain to others what kind of health care you want when you were too ill to speak for yourself. Those documents generally considered part of the family of advance directives are the following: (a) a health care proxy (durable power of attorney); and (b) a living will.

Of course, advanced communication with friends and family is very important. Those intimate communications can supplement the above-described documents. Afterall, friends and family are often your first line of defense in protecting and executing your specific wishes. If an illness or crisis strikes you and causes you to become incapacitated, it will be too late to execute these important documents as you must be of sound mind.
1. A health care proxy (more often called a durable power of attorney for health care) is a written, legal document that allows an individual to empower another person as agent to make decisions about his or her medical care. More specifically, the document is used to (1) name the person or agent you wish to make health care decisions for you if you aren’t able to make them yourself; and (2) to detail those specific health care decisions you want your agent to make. Having a power of attorney for health care is vitally important because statistics indicate most of us will not be able to make our own health care decisions throughout our entire lifetimes. The person you choose as an agent must be trustworthy. Afterall, that person will be making critical decisions on your behalf. You can change or revoke your agents and the designated services they are to provide at any time prior to your incapacity. Merely destroy the power of attorney or create a new one. While the document is easy to execute, Missouri law requires certain items be included in its text and certain events occur during its execution so consult with an experienced attorney before relying upon your own knowledge.

2. A living will is another important document you may execute while of sound mind and body that allows you to provide clear and convincing proof of your wishes and instructions about health care and treatment. By executing a living will, you encourage that your voice and preferences are heard. A living will lists which medical treatments you would accept or refuse if your body is receiving only life-sustaining treatment and after all life-improving treatments have been exhausted. Dialysis for kidney failure, exploratory or elective surgery, ventilators, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if your heart and breathing stop, or tube feeding if you can no longer eat or drink are all examples of medical treatment you can choose to accept or refuse in Missouri.
If you have already executed advance directives, take time annually to review them to be sure they reflect your current wishes. In doing so, you also remain satisfied with your decisions and confirm your health care proxy or power of attorney agent is still willing and able to carry out your plans. Make sure to give your power of attorney for health care and living will to your doctors, agent or proxy, and family members so they can be used in a time of crisis.
Final tips: (1) Keep the original copies of your advance directives where they are easily found; (2) give the person you have chosen as agent or health care proxy, a copy of your advance directives; and (3) give your primary physician or specialist a copy of your advance directives and ask that they make it a part of your medical record; (4) provide a copy to any hospital or primary care facility when you are admitted; and (5) consider carrying a card in your wallet that reads you have advance directives.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topic including estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.