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Advance Directives (Living Wills)

What is an Advance Directive or Living Will?

An advance directive is an instruction by a patient, given in advance, as to the withholding or withdrawing of certain medical treatment in the event the patient suffers a condition which prevents him or her from communicating with his or her doctors. A competent patient always has the right to refuse treatment for himself or herself or direct that such treatment be discontinued. Without an advance directive, once a patient becomes incapacitated, he or she may well lose that right. Advance directives need to be clear and convincing, and may include instructions to withhold or withdraw artificially supplied nutrition and hydration or other treatment or machinery which may maintain a patient in a persistent vegetative state. Advance directives can be tailored to meet the needs and desires of each individual patient, and need not follow any standard form, although it must comply with the state law. For example, an advance directive can specify that certain procedures are to be used for a reasonable period of time and then discontinued if they do not prove to be effective.

Why Give Advance Directives?

You accomplish at least two things by giving advance directives, regardless of whether they direct all possible treatment, no treatment or only some treatment. First, you ensure that the treatment you receive is the treatment you desire, no more and no less. Second, you remove the decision making burden from your family and friends at a time when they will most likely be emotionally upset by your critical condition. Moreover, you may be avoiding costly litigation to determine what treatment you really desired or intended.

How is a Living Will Made?

Any competent person 18 years of age or older can make a living will by signing and dating a statement similar to that shown above before two witnesses. These witnesses must be at least 18 years old, and should not be related to the person signing the declaration, a beneficiary of his or her estate or financially responsible for his or her medical care. The statement can be typed or handwritten. It is recommended that a living will or any other advance directives be carefully considered and prepared in advance of any hospitalization or impending surgery and, if possible, should not be decided in haste.

What Should I Do With My Advance Directive After It Is Signed?

It is essential that an advance directive be easily accessible. After execution, it should be stored in a safe, convenient place, rather than a safe deposit box, because it may be needed at a moment's notice. Many people take a copy of an advance directive with them when they travel. Some people even keep a copy in their purse or billfold. At a minimum, it is recommended that you provide a copy to your primary physician and immediate family. Giving a copy of your advance directive or other advance directives to your physician provides you with an opportunity to discuss your desires, raise any questions you may have about any procedure, and to determine whether your physician would honor your wishes. If you have appointed an attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions in case of your incapacity, he or she should have a copy. If you are hospitalized, a copy should be placed in your medical records. For these reasons, it is often wise to sign more than one copy of your advance directive or other advance directives.

How Does One Revoke an Advance Directive?

Once made, an advance directives are easily revoked or canceled. They can be revoked either orally or in writing. If possible, it is advisable to gather and destroy all copies of the advance directives, if you desire to revoke them. By statute, health care providers are required to note a revocation of an advance directive in the medical records of the patient.

Advance directives - Questions and Answers

What is an advance directive?
A written legal document Signed by the person making the Advance directive and also signed by two witnesses unrelated to this person. The document must comply with the laws of the state.

Who can make an advance directive?
Any person who is competent under the law to make a contract can make an Advance Directive.

What does an advance directive do?
The advance directive formalizes a person's wishes regarding the type of medical treatment and care to be used or withheld in the event of a serious illness.

How long is an advance directive valid?
Until revoked by the person who signed the document.

Can an advance directive be changed?
YES! The Advance directive can be revoked and a new document prepared at any time.

Why should I have an advance directive?
An advance directive documents the amount and types of medical treatment and care you wish to receive during a serious illness.