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Preserving Your Dignity: Why Advance Healthcare Directives Should Be An Integral Part Of Your Estate Plan

Dec 18, 2023 | Estate Planning

If something tragic were to happen to you which left you unable to speak or make decisions regarding the medical care that you receive, would your family know, implicitly, what you would want? Would they know whether or not you would want to be resuscitated in the event that your heart stops beating? Would they know whether you would want to be kept alive using artificial life-sustaining treatments, such as ventilation? And if so, for how long? Would they know whether you would have wanted to donate your organs if you were to suddenly pass away?

Chances are, the answer to all of these questions is “no,” because we tend to avoid having conversations like these for as long as we can. It’s extremely difficult for both you and your loved ones to have to think about a severe illness, injury, or death striking your family, but the reality is that we live with the risk of those things happening everyday. 

However, when you don’t have these critical conversations, you leave the individuals you love most in a state of confusion and uncertainty; they will ultimately be the ones who instruct the doctors on whether or not to initiate, continue, or withdraw life-sustaining medical care. You likely wouldn’t want them suffering or agonizing over what decisions to make and wondering if it’s what you would have wanted. 

The most effective way to prevent this pressure from plaguing your family, while preserving your dignity at the same time, is to ensure that advance healthcare directives are a part of your estate plan. In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about them and how they can bring a little bit of peace during an extremely difficult time. 

Understanding The Significance Of Estate Planning

While many people are aware of how important it is to have a will or trust, they may not know that a comprehensive estate plan actually includes many more elements, such as guardianship directives, beneficiary designations, and power of attorney. Advance directives are often overlooked when it comes to the creation of an estate plan for many reasons, such as:

  • Choosing to focus more on the financial aspects of estate planning
  • It’s an uncomfortable topic to think about and discuss with family members
  • A lack of awareness they such documents exist and how they can benefit individuals and their families
  • A misconception that advance directives are not needed because of good health
  • Procrastination
  • A false assumption that family members will automatically know which choices are the right ones
  • Legal misconceptions
  • And more. 

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create an individualized estate plan and understand how all of the components – not just wills and trusts – play a role in protecting and planning for your future. 

What It Means To Preserve Your Dignity

When we say that advance directives help preserve your dignity, we mean that they allow you to maintain your own bodily autonomy, respect, and sense of self-worth in the face of medical decisions and treatments. Everyone deserves the right to make informed choices about their own body and care which is aligned to their personal values, beliefs, and preferences. Dignity in healthcare recognizes the individual’s humanity, and emphasizes the importance of open communication between patients, their families, and healthcare providers. This concept acknowledges that your experience and perspective are unique, and your voice must be heard, even when you cannot speak. By taking the initiative to make decisions and engage in discussions about your health, you can ensure that your medical care aligns with your wishes and safeguards your sense of identity.

What You Need To Know About Advance Healthcare Directives

There are two advance directives that are most commonly used to outline the medical care an individual receives. They are:

Living will – a legal document which expresses your preferences for medical care to healthcare professionals, to be used in the event that you cannot express them yourself. Living wills often state which common medical treatments or care you want, which ones you want to avoid, and under which conditions each of your choices provide.

And 

Durable power of attorney for healthcare – this legal document names your healthcare proxy (sometimes also referred to as representative, surrogate, or agent), or person who can make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to communicate them yourself. The individual you choose should be familiar with your values and wishes, you’ll want to have conversations about that beforehand. Many people choose creating a living will over healthcare power of attorney, as it avoids having to ask someone you love to bear the immense weight of all of your medical decisions. 

While having a living will or a healthcare proxy can ensure that your wishes are followed in the face of certain scenarios, there are other planning forms and orders that you could prepare to tackle single medical issues or emergencies. They are:

  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order – a document that becomes part of your medical chart to inform medical staff in a hospital or nursing facility that you do not want CPR or other life-support measures to be attempted if your heartbeat and breathing stop
  • Do not intubate (DNI) order – a document that performs the same job as the DNR, except stating that you do not want to be on a ventilator
  • Do not hospitalize (DNH) order – a document that indicates to long-term care providers that you prefer not to be sent to a hospital for treatment at the end of life
  • Out-of-hospital DNR order – alerts emergency medical personnel to your wishes regarding measures to restore to restore your heartbeat or breathing if you are not in a hospital
  • Physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST) and medical orders for life-sustaining treatment (MOLST) forms – these are typically created when someone is nearing the end of their life or is critically ill, and serve as a medical order in addition to their advance directive to provide guidance on the care that healthcare professionals can act on immediately in the face of an emergency

When It Comes To Something So Personal, Clear Communication Is Vital. Let Daly Law Offices Play A Part In Helping You Preserve Your Dignity.

Our lead attorney, Joshua N. Daly knows how sensitive and emotional topics such as these can be, so you can rely on him to treat your case with the utmost care and compassion. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow; there is no better time to begin the estate planning process than today. Call today to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can simplify the process. 

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