Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Advance Directives

By Colleen Stumpf, Esq. The Quinn Law Firm

If a serious illness or accident disrupted your life, who would manage your affairs?

A Power-of-Attorney, a Health Care Power-of-Attorney, and a Living Will are three documents that work to ensure that another person can handle your affairs if you are unable to do so yourself.

While these documents address different issues, they all have the goal of making your wishes and desires known to those people whom you designate as decision-makers at a time when you are unable.

Financial Power-of-Attorney

In a Power-of-Attorney, you may delegate financial decision-making authority to a trusted agent who will manage your financial affairs. You may choose to allow your agent to manage your affairs at any time or only when you are unable to do so for yourself.

Additionally, you may decide how much power you want your agent to possess - an agent may be permitted only to deal with one account or they may control all of your assets.

Health Care Powers-of-Attorney

In a Health Care Power-of-Attorney, you appoint a "health care agent" who can make health care decisions for you.

The health care agent is responsible for gathering information on your condition and treatment alternatives. The agent has a duty to make health care decisions that conform to your preferences and values and to act in your best interest.

If you do not have a health care agent, a health care representative may be appointed. The six classes from which a health care representative may be chosen, in order of priority, are: (1) your spouse; (2) your adult children (3) your parents; (4) an adult sibling; (5) your grandchildren; and, (6) an adult who has knowledge of your preferences and values.

If more than one member of a class is named as the health care representative, and the health care representatives cannot agree on a medical decision, then a physician may rely on the decision of the majority. If the class is divided evenly on a decision, the status quo is maintained.

Living Wills

Living Wills enable you to express your wishes regarding the process of dying.

A living will states your desires regarding the continuation or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments - treatments that serve only to prolong the process of dying.

In a Living Will, you choose now which life-sustaining treatments you do or do not want to receive in the event you are no longer competent to make these decisions and you have an end-stage medical condition or were permanently unconscious.

To have an "end-stage medical condition" means that you have an incurable and irreversible medical condition that will result in death regardless of the continued application of life-sustaining treatment. To be "permanently unconscious" means that you have a total and irreversible loss of consciousness and are in a persistent vegetative state or an irreversible coma.

Once it is determined that you have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious, the physician will look to your directions in the Living Will to determine what treatments or procedures that you desire. If the physician has any questions, the physician may talk to your health care agent.

Having these three invaluable documents allows another person to manage your affairs if you cannot and eases the burden on your family and friends.