Estate Planning

Advance Directives: Planning Ahead for Your Own Medical Care

Although the thought may not be pleasant, you may someday face a sudden health crisis that leaves you unable to make your own medical decisions. Fortunately, there are legal means, known as advance directives, to address this potential concern.

An advance directive is a written statement that you complete prior to a serious illness. Generally speaking, an advance directive names someone to act on your behalf or outlines how you want them to make medical decisions when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. Some types of advance directives may do more for you than others, so it is important to know the differences.

Types of Advance Directives

The two most common forms of an advance directive are a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care, commonly referred to as a health care proxy.

  • Living will: A living will explains in writing the care you wish to receive or avoid in the event you become incapacitated. For instance, a living will can express your wishes for controlling pain, receiving nutrition or making life-support decisions.
  • Durable power of attorney for health care: Unlike a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care allows you to legally designate someone, a health care proxy, to make medical decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself. In some states you may even be able to combine a health care proxy and living will into a single document.

Federal law requires hospitals and nursing homes to ask about the existence of an advance directive when they admit a patient. Most states only allow a health care proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can no longer make them for yourself. Until then, you are the only person who can legally consent to medical treatment.

You can always change or cancel the advance directive as long as you are mentally alert. If you decide to make changes to your living will or durable power of attorney for health care, be sure to do so in writing.

Know the Potential Drawbacks

Though an advance directive is a legal document, a health care proxy cannot handle every medical situation. For instance, emergency medical services (EMS) may not be able to follow the advance directive. If someone calls 911, EMS must try to resuscitate and stabilize you until you reach the hospital, regardless of an existing advance directive. You can consider obtaining a medical ID with a DNR or “Do Not Resuscitate” request, if those are your wished. DNR requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your attorney.

A lawyer can provide you with additional information about advance directives. Though you cannot anticipate an unexpected health care crisis, you can prepare ahead of time to ensure you receive the care that coincides with your intentions.

Fifth Third Bank does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax adviser or attorney before making any decisions or taking any action based on this information. This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute the rendering of tax or legal advice.

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