Advanced Directives: Your Questions—Answered

What happens when you’re in a medical situation where you cannot make decisions for yourself? Does your family know your desires if you’re put on life support? Do you wish to decline life-saving measures in an emergency? Advanced directives are legal documents that answer these questions for your medical team, caregivers, and family members when you can’t voice these desires yourself. Read on for answers about creating advanced directives as a part of your estate plan. 

What is an Advanced Directive? 

According to Chapter 765 of the Florida Statutes, advanced directives are written documents or official oral statements that express your desires concerning any aspect of your medical care or health information. They are used in emergencies where you’re unable to communicate those decisions for yourself, like when you’re terminally ill or severely injured. They can also be used when you are in a persistent coma or have been diagnosed with late-term dementia. 

Why Should You Have an Advanced Directive? 

 Advanced directives help medical staff provide your desired care without guessing your preferences if you cannot communicate with them. These documents clearly define your wishes, so your family and medical care team can feel more at ease knowing they’re making decisions according to your preferences.  

When Should You Create an Advanced Directive? 

The best time to create an advanced directive is before you need it—when you’re healthy and can think clearly about your preferences. Many people create advanced directives when drafting their estate plans. Others choose to make advanced directives when they’re given a new medical diagnosis. It could also be beneficial to create or modify your advanced directive when you change doctors, get new insurance, or are under the care of physicians for a new illness. 

What Types of Advanced Directives Exist? 

 Here are some of the most common types of advanced directives:

Living Wills 

Living wills allow you to express your preferences for various medical treatments and end-of-life care decisions. You can use these general documents to appoint a health care surrogate, state your preferences for medicines and invasive procedures when facing a terminal diagnosis, and more. Living wills ensure that your medical decisions are in your control, even when you cannot express them directly. 

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and Do Not Intubate (DNI) Orders 

These advanced directives dictate what life-saving procedures you’re comfortable with if you go into cardiac or respiratory arrest. DNRs prohibit emergency crews from performing CPR. DNI orders prevent the use of a ventilator or breathing tube. First responders need to physically see the order before withholding treatment, so you should always keep a copy of these orders on you. According to the Florida Department of Health, DNR orders must be printed on yellow paper to be legally valid. 

Durable Power of Attorney 

 A power of attorney (POA) gives someone else the legal power to make decisions for you. General POAs cover a wide range of tasks for a specific time. They only go into effect when conscious. Durable POAs, however, go into effect if you become incapacitated. 

Health Care Surrogate 

Health care surrogates are given limited power to make medical decisions on your behalf. A health care surrogate should be someone you trust enough to make decisions for you if you’re temporarily or permanently incapacitated. The benefit of having a health care surrogate is that it places one person in charge of all your medical decisions, instead of having several family members with differing opinions weigh in on your medical care. 

Anatomical Gifts 

Another type of advanced directive is an anatomical gift. You can donate your body or organs for transplants, research, or educational purposes. 

How Do You Create an Advanced Directive? 

 Each type of advanced directive has different requirements. For instance, you and two witnesses must sign a living will, while you (or your health care surrogate) and a doctor must sign a DNR. An estate planning attorney can help you draft various advanced directives and ensure they’re legally binding. Once you create your advance directive, notify your medical care team and family. Make copies of the directive and keep emergency-related orders on you. 

Can You Modify Advanced Directives? 

You can modify most advanced directives at any time. The most common way to modify an advanced directive is to create a new document and revoke the old one (remember to destroy old copies). Put language in the new directive that voids all previous versions. Keep a list of people who have copies of your advanced directives so you can give them new versions once they’re created.

How Do I Notify My Medical Team that I Have an Advanced Directive? 

Once you’ve created an advanced directive, send a copy to your doctor’s offices, family members, and the local hospital. You’ll also want to discuss your wishes with family members so they also know your desires.

Advanced Directives and Estate Planning in Osceola County  

Kathy D. Sheive is an experienced estate planning attorney who serves residents of Osceola and Polk counties. Contact our office at 407-315-2268 to learn more about creating advanced directives as a part of your overall estate plan.

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