is National Health Care Decisions Day. Approximately only one-third of adults in the United States have any form of a written advance health care directive, or medical power of attorney document, to designate who they want to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapable of making those medical decisions for themselves. Therefore, the goal of National Health Care Decisions Day is to educate the public about the importance of having a medical power of attorney document in place.
If you do not have a medical power of attorney in place, or if you know someone who does not have a medical power of attorney, use this as an opportunity to talk to an attorney and learn more about what you need to do to make sure that you are protected in the event of incapacity and that people of your choosing will be able to make medical decisions on your behalf. While you are planning for the possibility of future incapacity, a good attorney should also recommend that you execute a durable power of attorney. This will ensure that a trusted family member or friend will be able to use your finances to pay for the medical treatment that your medical agent authorizes on your behalf, as well as manage the rest of your legal and financial affairs in the event of your incapacity.
If you do already have a medical power of attorney, then use this as an opportunity to make sure that your document will protect you adequately and still meets your wishes. For example, is your agent still an appropriate person to serve? Do you have a successor agent named in case your primary agent becomes unable to serve? Does your agent have HIPAA authority to speak to your doctors so she can make an informed decision about your care? Does your document contain language stating that medical professionals can rely on the decisions your agent makes?
Once you ensure that your agent has the proper legal authority, he will need to make your medical decisions, you must also consider whether your agent knows what types of choices you would want him to make on your behalf. A good medical power of attorney document will provide guidance to your agent about your specific wishes. After all, it is difficult to step into someone else’s shoes and make these very personal medical decisions, so providing detailed guidance is a gift to your agent and to yourself to give peace of mind in knowing that your wishes will be known, even if you become incapable of articulating what those wishes are at the time decisions need to be made.
Among the most sensitive decisions to be made is the decision of what treatment you would want to receive when your death is imminent. Many people elect to state their wishes for end-of-life treatment in a separate document, called a living will, instead of including this language in the medical power of attorney document. By expressing your wishes in a living will, you are ensuring that your end-of-life wishes are honored once a doctor determines that you are near death, instead of leaving this final decision up to the discretion of your medical agent.
In addition to stating these wishes in your medical power of attorney and living will documents, it may be wise to talk with your medical agent about your medical wishes. So often, people delay having this conversation, knowing that it will not be a cheerful one. However, having a frank discussion now can reduce anxiety and heartache for both you and your agent if and when your agent needs to act.
National Health Care Decisions Day (NHCDD) is a day of education and awareness, to encourage more individuals to plan for health care decisions. To learn more, click this