Healthcare Advance Directives
By Leu & Peirce, PLLC
Healthcare Advance Directives are a series of legal documents that work in concert to provide trusted individuals with the tools they need to help manage your healthcare and make health-related decisions for you, should you become unable to do so for yourself.
Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney enables you to name a trusted individual as your agent to communicate your healthcare decisions in accordance with your wishes. Unlike powers of attorney for financial purposes, a Medical Power of Attorney cannot be made effective immediately. As long as you are awake and can understand and answer a medical professional, you always make your own healthcare decisions. If you do not understand the medical professional, or are unable to communicate your desires, your agent under the Medical Power of Attorney has authority to act for you. Your agent’s authority includes the ability to make decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment. Your agent is obligated to follow your wishes when making healthcare decisions for you, to the extent you have made those wishes known, and your agent must consult with the attending physician and other healthcare providers before making a decision. If there is no evidence of your wishes, your agent should make decisions based on an evaluation of your best interests. However, treatment may not be given or withheld if you object, regardless of whether you are competent. Although you are not required to designate alternate agents, it is advisable that you name at least one additional person, if not more, whom you trust to act on your behalf and in accordance with your beliefs and desires. Importantly, a Medical Power of Attorney only applies to healthcare decisions, not decisions regarding where you should live or who can have access to you.
HIPAA Release and Authorization
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a federal law that requires security standards for the protection of medical and other types of healthcare information. Individuals who have access to your healthcare information are prohibited from releasing such information without your express approval. You can name individuals you trust to have access to this protected information in a HIPAA Release and Authorization. When you execute a HIPAA Release and Authorization, you give your healthcare providers permission to discuss your health information with the individuals you have named. This can be an important tool for those who are assisting you with your healthcare and want to stay informed of your status. This document also allows you to keep others who are close to you informed of your medical condition, even if they cannot make decisions.
Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will)
A Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, commonly known as a Living Will, provides information and instructions regarding your desires to administer, withhold, or withdraw life-sustaining treatment should you be diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition. A Living Will is typically executed before the onset of illness or incapacity.
Although commonly confused, a Living Will is not the same as a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR). A DNR should be signed only after receiving an explanation from a physician, who also signs the document to confirm you were provided the information necessary to make a sound decision. While a Living Will addresses life-sustaining treatment before your heart has stopped beating, a DNR instructs medical personnel not to perform emergency resuscitation after your heart has stopped beating. Importantly, if you have a properly executed DNR, medical personnel must see it prior to beginning resuscitation procedures, as they cannot stop resuscitation procedures once they have begun.
An experienced attorney who practices in this area of the law understands each of these documents and how to tailor them to your unique circumstances, wishes, and family dynamics. Ensuring your estate plan includes Healthcare Advance Directives will spare your loved ones the stress of having to make these decisions on their own. Advice on Healthcare Advance Directives, as well as other interrelated legal issues, should be provided by an attorney who works in this area on a daily basis. If you need help with your estate plan, or have questions about Healthcare Advance Directives, please contact our office for a consultation.
Lori Leu, Erin Peirce, Lauren Olson, Laura Chavero, and Brisha Gardner are Elder Law attorneys with Leu & Peirce, PLLC in the North Dallas area. They can be reached at 972-996-2540.