Who will make health care decisions for you if you can’t? Who will pay your bills and manage your assets?

Making key decisions now about who would act on your behalf if you lose your ability will not only ensure that your wishes are carried out but also avoid a legal crisis for your loved ones that can land them in court.

What Are Advance Directives?

Advance Directives refer to the documents you create that name your “fiduciaries” – decision-makers you trust – to act on legal, financial and health care matters on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated.

Executing a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy now, while you can make careful decisions will allow you to control who speaks for you and guide their decisions even if you are incapacitated. Advance directives also avoid any potential conflicts or uncertainties among family members about your finances, medical care and wishes.

For example, you can decide whether you want to be kept alive with ventilators or tube feeding, or if you want artificial life support if you have suffered a loss of brain function. What are your feelings about organ donation? How would you like your body to be disposed of after death? These are all questions that you can answer clearly with advance directives.

Commonly Utilized Advance Directives

Health care proxy

The health care proxy (HCP) allows you to designate an agent in advance to make decisions on your behalf if you later become incapacitated. Also called in some states a durable power of attorney for health care, the proxy form designates someone else to ensure that the wishes you have expressed—in your health care declaration (HCD), often referred to as a “living will,” are carried out, and to make health care determinations on your behalf if you’re not capable or don’t have a HCD. The health care proxy is sometimes combined with a HCD, but it is our practice at Pierro, Connor & Strauss to combine the two tools in one legal instrument along with a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release section.

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Health Care Declaration – “Living Will”

The health care declaration states your desires concerning future life-sustaining medical care you want or don’t want if you become incapacitated. These are sometimes called health care directives, medical directives, or instructional directives.  We use the expression health care directive because that’s a more descriptive term for what it is.

MOLST: Medical Order about Life-Sustaining Treatment

The MOLST is a form authorized by state law in several states prepared by a physician working with the patient, used in a hospital setting for a patient who is terminally ill.  It is a detailed form – almost a chart – of the patient’s wishes about very specific treatments and procedures.  Because it is a physician’s order and is in the patient’s chart, it is more likely to be followed in the hospital setting and may in some cases minimize the issue of compliance with patient’s wishes.

The MOLST document, kept in the patient’s chart, does not replace the health care declaration or health care proxy but rather supplements them.  It can also guide the health care agent’s decision if she or he is not sure of the maker’s wishes, just as the health care declaration does.

DNR: Do Not Resuscitate Order

This document gives a physician instruction stating ‘do not resuscitate’ if the patient’s heart or breathing stops.  It is a form signed by a patient who has capacity or can be signed by the health care agent when the patient lacks capacity to give informed consent.  A DNR order need not be executed in advance and can be signed in the hospital at admission or during a procedure.

Durable Power of Attorney

This directive allows you to designate someone you trust to make important financial decisions on your behalf. It differs from a general Power of Attorney which ends the moment you are incapacitated. In a Durable Power of Attorney, your agent can make decisions if you are unable, which range from paying bills to managing assets, to tax and asset protection planning. Examples include signing legal documents, making financial and business decisions, and advising on healthcare decisions.

The Albany and New York City-based estate attorneys at Pierro, Connor & Strauss work with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and unambiguous advance directives that reflect their health care and financial desires and are consistent with all other aspects of their estate plans.

Who Needs Advance Directives?

Every adult, regardless of his or her family situation, can benefit from putting advance directives in place. End-of-life decisions are easier to manage when you are not under duress due to unexpected or catastrophic illnesses or disabilities.

Moreover, you can change your advance directives at any time while you remain competent to do so. Your estate plan and decisions about your medical care will be affected by matters such as:

  • New diagnoses about your medical conditions
  • New treatments that may become available
  • Changes in your marital or family status
  • Your overall health and economic well-being

An Advance Directives Attorney Can Help You

Completing your advance directives will substantially ease the burden on your family and friends who might be faced with the need to make financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf. They will also give you peace of mind, knowing that no decisions will be made involving your medical treatment that you have not approved.

Call Pierro, Connor, & Strauss, LLC to speak with an estate planning lawyer who can answer your questions about advance directives and help you clarify your wishes in legally valid documents. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can ensure that your legal documents are updated and kept current as your needs and circumstances change over time.

Life Happens…..Are You Prepared?

Contact us today for a FREE consultation and we’ll be happy to help take the worry out of tomorrow so you can live today.