A New Year's Resolution: Update Your Advance Directives

Are your advance directives -- health care power of attorney, designation of health care agent, medical directive, living will, and the like -- up to date?

This year, make a New Year's Resolution for 2013 to take your advance directives out of your file cabinet and review them for any changes that need to be made.

Here are five suggestions to consider:

1. Get rid of that living will.
Most people don't want to be hooked up to machines at the end of their lives. That doesn't happen very often, fortunately. Here is a larger concern: NOT being hooked up to machines that could save your life!
Almost 80 percent of family physicians misinterpret living wills as DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders, the TRIAD III study revealed. Researchers concluded, "Misunderstanding of advance directives is a nationwide problem."

2. What to do instead? Designate one health care agent and at least one successor health care agent, in a durable power of attorney for health care.
Emphasis here is on ONE health care agent. Health care providers prefer to deal with one individual, not a committee. Take your health care power of attorney and your health care agent to your doctor and introduce them both to your doctor and your doctor's staff.

3. Give your health care agent the right to make mental health decisions for you, including the right to admit you to a facility for psychiatric treatment.
In some states and for some institutions, the authority of the health care agent to make mental health decisions is not assumed. The alternative is an "involuntary commitment proceeding" (in other words, a judge decides).

4. Give your health care agent the right to make decisions for you immediately.
Not so already? In Tennessee, and probably in most other states, your health care agent cannot make any decisions for you until you are "incapacitated."
Who determines whether or not you are "incapacitated"? Guess who? (That would NOT be you, and would NOT be your health care agent)

5. Give your health care agent control of your funeral arrangements.
In new legislation this year, the Tennessee General Assembly says that your health care agent under your durable power of attorney for health care has the right to control the disposition of your body, unless you already have made your own funeral arrangements.
Caveat: make sure that is what you want. You may want your oldest child to be your health care agent, but your spouse to make your funeral arrangements. Thus, if you don't want your health care agent to control the disposition of your body, say so in your advance directive.

As always, these suggestions are not to be regarded as legal advice -- always consult your lawyer before making changes to your estate planning documents.

 

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