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Living Wills

What is an Advanced Health Care Declaration?

Also known as a living will, this document is a written statement which allows you retain control over whether or not your life should be prolonged by the use of artificial means in a case where you are incompetent and have a terminal condition or are permanently unconscious. The statement tells your family and friends of your wishes and instructs your doctor and other health care providers whether or not to medically prolong the process of your dying or keep you in a state of permanent unconsciousness, with no hope of recovery. It is to be followed if you are unable to
provide instructions at the time the medical decisions need to be made and allows you to authorize the withholding or withdrawal of all treatment and procedures.

Who May Make a Health Care Declaration?

Any individual who is of sound mind and at least 18 years of age, or who has graduated from high school or is married, may make and sign a declaration. This person is called the “declarant.” The declarant may also direct another person to sign the declaration on his/her behalf. Two adults must witness the signing; however, an individual who has signed the declaration on behalf of the declarant may not sign as a witness. A living will does not need to be notarized.

Can Someone Else Make Decisions For Me?

Yes. The Advance Directive for Health Care Law permits you to name a “surrogate” and a substitute surrogate to make medical treatment decisions for you if you should ever become incompetent and either in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious. The preferred procedure is to make your wishes known in a written declaration. You may then want to name a surrogate and instruct them to make sure that your written wishes are carried out. Also, be sure that the people you name as surrogates are willing to fill this role and understand your preferences and desires.

What Should I Include in my Declaration?

Consult with your physician or other health care providers to learn what kinds of medical treatments and procedures can be included in your declaration. You should also consult with a lawyer to be sure that your declaration is legally binding and includes all necessary information.

When Is a Declaration Used?

Your declaration becomes effective and can be used only after your attending physician makes a written diagnosis that you are incompetent and either in a terminal condition or in a permanent state of unconsciousness. The diagnosis must then be confirmed in writing by a second physician.

Must a Physician Comply?

No. However, if a physician or health care provider is unwilling or cannot in a good conscience comply with your provisions, he/she must make every reasonable effort to assist in transferring you to another physician or health care provider who will comply. Be sure to discuss your living will with all of your physicians so they will be aware of your wishes.

What is Power of Attorney?

A health care power of attorney is a written document authorizing someone you name as your agent to make health care decisions for you, in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself or make your own decisions. It is similar to a surrogate in a living will. However, it pertains to all medical situations, not only those involving terminal conditions or permanent unconsciousness. The document may also contain instructions or guidelines you want your agent to follow. A health care power of attorney is a form of a durable power of attorney and must be properly written to
authorize your agent to make health care decisions for you. You should consult with your attorney as to the proper preparation of a health care power of attorney. While the use of an advanced health care declaration is limited to decisions about life-sustaining procedures in the event of terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness, a health care power of attorney establishes a person to act as your agent in all health care decisions. Therefore, both documents are important in making sure your health care wishes are carried out in the event that you cannot speak for
yourself.

Can I Change or Revoke the Documents?

Your advanced health care declaration may be changed or revoked by you at any time, regardless of your physical or mental condition, either in writing or merely by telling your attending physician or other person of your wishes, even if you are in a health care institution. You can also change your power of attorney at any time by notifying your agent or health care provider of your decision. It is best to notify them in writing and to destroy the original documents. Notify your lawyer to assist you in properly handling the documents. Be sure to talk to everyone concerned about any changes and that the most current versions of your documents are in your medical and legal files.



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