As lawyers, we are often asked about the importance and necessity of advance medical directives. While we recommend them for everyone, startlingly, only a quarter or less of Americans actually have one. Setting up an advance medical directive is very important because it ensures that you always have a voice, no matter what takes place in the future.
What is an Advance Medical Directive?
An advance medical directive is a legal document guided by state law that primarily does two things:
- It appoints individuals as decision-makers on your behalf, to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so on your own;
- It includes a living will declaration (different from a last will and testament) to express your end-of-life treatment preferences.
What is a Living Will?
According to the American Bar Association, a living will is a written expression of how you want to be treated in certain medical circumstances. It gives you a voice in decisions about your medical preferences and details how you’d like to be cared for if something unexpected happens to you and you are unable to make decisions on your own. The living will answers the difficult questions, so others don’t have to, such as:
- In what circumstances would you want to be resuscitated? In what circumstances would you not want to be resuscitated?
- Do you want to be on life-support? If so, for how long?
- Would you prefer the decision regarding the termination of life support to be one that you make (and determine the ground rules about), or should a specified individual make that decision at the appropriate time?
Without an advance medical directive, your family members may be required to go to court to name a guardian for you, which is expensive and time-consuming and would mean that you would not have control over the decision-making process. With an advance medical directive, your designated agents are empowered to act on your behalf without involving the court system and you retain control over the process.
For more information, consult with a legal advisor to help prepare a living will for you and your loved ones.