What are Advance Directives?

An advance directive is the best thing you can do in case you become unable to make your own medical decisions. No matter how well your family loves and respects you, doctors cannot read your mind.

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What are Advance Directives exactly?

Advance directives, which are legal documents, allow you to express your preferences about medical treatment and to instruct someone you choose to be able to make decisions for you. Advance directives can be very useful in situations of medical emergency or when a person is nearing the end of their life.

There are two types of advance directives. The living will and the healthcare power of attorney. The use of advance directives is regulated by the state. Laws vary from one state to the next. While some states allow family members to make medical decisions for incapacitated loved one, others require that the state have clear evidence or designate a decision-maker.

When do Advance Directives become effective?

Most states allow advance directives to become effective after one or more doctors have certified that you (1) are unable make a medical decision for yourself, (2) are in a condition listed in the state’s living-will law and (3) meet any other state requirements.

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An advance directive cannot be valid unless signed in person by you and two witnesses. You may not name a person as a witness. Some states require that the advance directive be notarized.

The Living Will

In the event that you are unable to communicate directly or become ill, disabled or become incapacitated, a living will lets you put your wishes on medical treatment in writing.

This document may be called a “healthcare directive”, “directive to doctors” or “healthcare declaration.” However, the purpose of a living trust is to guide and instruct your family members and doctors regarding your wishes for your final medical care.

Once a doctor (or more than one in some states) has certified that your condition is a medical condition listed in the state’s living will law, and you are no longer able to make medical decisions, a living will takes effect

Click here to see a sample of a living will.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

Healthcare power of attorney is also known as “healthcare proxy”, “appointment to a healthcare agent” or “durable power to attorney for healthcare” and allows you to appoint someone to handle your medical needs if you are unable to speak for yourself.

A healthcare power of attorney is usually granted after one or more doctors have certified that your medical condition meets the requirements under your state laws.

You can make a power-of-attorney in simple cases by filling out a DIY form.

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Out of State Advance Directives

It depends on which state you are in to determine if your advance directive will be recognized. A state may honor an advance directive received from another state. This is true even if the laws of the two states are identical. However, other states may not honor an outside-of-state advance Directive. In this instance, you would need an advance directive to be created in the state where you are currently residing.

What do you do with a completed Advance Directive?

It is a good idea to make multiple copies of your completed advance directive. It is always possible to need an advance directive. Make sure to share copies with your doctor, agent, family members, and friends. It is also a good idea to have your advance directive handy if you are undergoing surgery or any other procedure that will require you to stay in a hospital.

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Talk to an attorney if you have questions about elder law or are unsure where to begin.

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