Advance directives consist of three documents: a living will, a health care power of attorney, and a financial power of attorney. These documents give you the ability to control how medical treatment is given to you, and how your finances are managed, if you can't speak for yourself. Your family may call upon your advance directives should you become incapacitated, become terminally ill, or enter a permanently unconscious state. In your advance directives, you can specify what treatments you do and don't want, state your wishes about life support, and name a health care advocate.
Not having advance directives can put an incredible amount of emotional and financial strain on your family members, who will need to make important decisions about your care if the time comes.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A "TERMINAL CONDITION" OR A "PERMANENTLY UNCONSCIOUS STATE"?
A terminal condition is a serious disease, illness, or injury that cannot be cured or treated. There is no possibility of recovery, and death is likely to occur within a relatively short time if life-sustaining treatment is not administered.
A permanently unconscious state is when the brain has stopped working but the body is still alive. The person cannot feel pain or suffering.
4 SIGNS YOU NEED ADVANCE DIRECTIVES
You are worried about what hospitals might do to you should you be unable to speak for yourself.
You have a family history of life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease or cancer, and are anxious about your future health.
You have business and financial interests that will need to be tended to should you become incapacitated.
You have strong wishes about your end-of-life care.
Having advance directives eliminates the risk of resorting to a guardianship should you become incapacitated. This can be a lengthy and costly court process.
WHAT DOCUMENTS ARE PART OF ADVANCE DIRECTIVES?
A living will is a document that legally states what your wishes are for medical care if you are unable to speak for yourself. It is important to have a clear living will should you ever enter a permanently unconscious state or develop a terminal illness. Under these circumstances, you may or may not want to remain on life support. You may or may not want to have a do not resuscitate order (DNR). Having a living will spares your loved ones from having to make difficult, end-of-life decisions for you. It also helps you maintain control over your care.
A health care power of attorney is a document in which you name your advocate for medical care if you are unable to speak on your own behalf. Your health care power of attorney will have the legal authority to approve your medical treatment. This person will also be given the tools they need to advocate for you if they believe that the hospital misdiagnosed you, and you do not have a terminal condition and/or are not in a permanently unconscious state. It is their job to seek second opinions, take you to another facility, etc. This person is usually a surviving spouse, close friend, or family member. Under Ohio law, this person's decisions cannot stray from what is outlined in your living will. By having a health care power of attorney, you are not putting the burden on your family to make decisions for you. You have made those decisions yourself, and it is the health care proxy's job to make sure those wishes are carried out.
A financial power of attorney is a document in which you name someone to manage your assets and make financial decisions for you if you can't do so yourself. This person will have the legal authority to pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, and generally take care of your financial needs should you become incapacitated. This person is typically a surviving spouse, close friend, or family member. Without a financial power of attorney, your bills could go unpaid and your bank accounts could remain unmonitored.
HOW TO CREATE ADVANCE DIRECTIVE DOCUMENTS
You can indeed create your own advance directives. Living will and health care power of attorney forms are available online.
The Franklin County Probate Court has living will and health care power of attorney forms on its website. They also have a mental health directive form, which you may want to consider downloading if you have a family history of dementia, Alzheimer's, or other mental illness.
Be aware, advance directive documents need to be either signed in front of a notary or two disinterested parties. These disinterested parties cannot be related to you, named a power of attorney, or be medical staff at any facility that you are in.
When you are creating your advance directives, it is important to remember that these are only a few of the important documents that make up your estate plan. Any adult with assets needs to have a last will and testament, and you may want to consider creating a trust as well. The experienced estate planning attorneys at DuPont and Blumenstiel can talk to you about your options and ensure that your end-of-life wishes are clear. Call 614-389-9711 to get your estate documents in order.
How do advance directives fit in with the rest of your estate plan? Download our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning in Ohio here.
GREGORY S. DUPONT, ESTATE ATTORNEY
Greg DuPont, JD, CFP®, is a well-respected estate attorney, financial advisor, public speaker, and published author. He has been serving clients as an estate and tax planning attorney since graduating from Capital University Law School in 1992 and added a wealth component to his practice over 15 years ago. He designed his firm to be the place where finance and law meet. He has been named one of Ohio’s Top 100 lawyers and was also recently named an Ohio Super Lawyer. Greg has been featured on WTVN radio and WCMH television. He is a life-long resident of Central Ohio and resides in Hilliard with his wife, Julia, and his daughter, Sophie.