What is an Advanced Health Directive, and Why Should you Care?
An Advanced Health Directive, sometimes referred to as a Living Will,” is a document to dictate medical decisions. An Advanced Health Directive only comes into effect if you are unable to speak for yourself: during a coma, surgical complications, if you suffer from severe dementia, at the end of life, etc. Utah has its own version of an Advanced Health Directive as do other states. Advanced Directives can include terminology like Healthcare proxy or Health Care Power of Attorney.
In Utah’s Advanced Health Directive you’ll find:
– A place to name your “Agent”, the person who will make medical decisions; and a “Substitute Agent” who is your decision-maker if your primary Agent is unavailable.
– A list of different powers you can give, or not give, your Agent. These include: the ability to admit you to a care facility, obtain copies of your medical records, and serve as your Guardian if needed.
– Various Options you can select regarding end of life care, for example: when to discontinue life sustaining treatments.
The four available Options were written by the Utah State Legislature and are clear as mud. Carefully read through all choices before making a selection. In plain English, Option 1 means your Agent makes the final decision about when to discontinue treatment when certain conditions are met. Option 2 means “Keep me alive! Continue life sustaining treatment!” Option 3(a) means your doctor makes the final decision about when to discontinue life sustaining treatment, without limitations or conditions. Option 3(b) means your doctor makes the final decision when certain conditions are met. Option 4 means you do not have any end of life instructions.
There are ample reasons to care about your Advanced Health Directive. Illness and death are a safe bet. Having your Advanced Health Directive reduces confusion and ambiguity. Your doctor immediately knows who will be a primary contact among your family members. Your family is not left wondering or arguing over your desires.
Advance Health Directives serve a purpose for relatively young and healthy people. For an unmarried person living away from home, an Advanced Health Directive can name a significant other or local friend as Agent. That Agent can have authority to work with medical providers until family members arrive.
The Utah Advance Health Directive is one of few planning documents that do not require an attorney. An attorney may be helpful to explain the differences between Options and discuss who should be your Agent. The Advance Health Directive and instructions may be found at: http://aging.utah.edu/programs/utah-coa/directives/. After completing your Advance Health Directive, give a copy to your Agent, Substitute Agent, primary care physician, and keep the original with other important papers in an accessible place. Other states will have entirely different documents and instructions.
****Disclaimer**** The above does not constitute legal advice and is for general informational purposes only.
Dara R. Cohen is an attorney practicing in Salt Lake City. She specializes in Trusts, Estates, Probate, and Business Planning. For contact information and to learn more, please visit http://daracohenlaw.com/ or find her on Facebook.