An Advance Directive for Health Care is a scary thing to contemplate.

It is the kind of easy form that no one wants to fill out.

You have the fundamental right to consent to or refuse your own medical care. Most people guard that right jealously and do not waive it lightly.

Still, accidents happen. Between 20 and 50 million people are injured in car crashes each year. If you are in a major car accident, you may be incapacitated or non-communicative.

If you lose the ability to communicate your wishes, who makes those critical care decisions for you?

What Is an Advance Directive for Health Care?

An Advance Directive for Health Care is a document that allows you to designate someone to make those decisions for you. It is also sometimes referred to as a healthcare proxy, healthcare power of attorney or advance health care directive or a medical POA.  It really depends on the state you live in and even what the provider (healthcare) calls this document.

This document is different from the Durable Power of Attorney, which does not usually authorize the designated agent to make medical decisions for you.  A durable power of attorney typically refers to the person you designate to make financial decisions for you. 

Many people procrastinate estate planning because they think they are too young to need a will or living trust. That is not true, but it is especially not true of Medical POA. Auto accidents can happen to anyone at any time. Everyone over the age of 18 should execute a Medical POA so that there is no confusion about who calls the shots in the event of an accident.

Incapacitating Injuries

Injuries that commonly require the invocation of a Healthcare POA include:

  • Head and Brain Injuries. Head trauma may render you unconscious, delirious, or unable to communicate your wishes.
  • Burn Injuries. Patients are often placed in a medically-induced coma. Decisions about ongoing treatment may need to be made under the authority of a Medical POA.
  • Soft Tissue Injuries. Internal bleeding may deprive the brain of oxygen, resulting in unconsciousness.

Who Should You Designate?

The person you designate (also known as the “healthcare representative” or “healthcare agent”) will have a great deal of authority. The “healthcare representative” does not have to be an attorney. It can be anyone over the age of eighteen. Make sure it is someone you trust and who will be available on a moment’s notice to think clearly and make crucial calls.  But more importantly, someone who understands what YOU would want in emergency and long term medical care.

Note that you cannot appoint your physician as your healthcare representative, nor can you appoint an employee of your physician. It has to be someone different than your designated provider of medical care.

Is This Related to a “Living Will?”

The good news is that an Advance Directive for Health Care is different from a living will. Living wills take effect only if you are terminally ill or rendered permanently unconscious.

A living will and a Healthcare POA might be separate documents, or they could be folded into one document. In Georgia, the statutory form does integrate these two into one document.  This is different than it used to be here in Georgia where they were separate forms.

Healthcare POA parameters can be extensive or include restrictions on the types of decisions the healthcare representative can make. It is essential to designate an alternate should the primary healthcare representative be unavailable, deceased, or incapacitated. Many states require the execution (signing) of a Healthcare POA be witnessed and potentially notarized.

Help With A Advance Directive for Health Care

An Advance Directive for Health Care is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It pays to consult a professional to make sure your wishes are carried out, even if you are in no condition to express them.

You do not have to face these scary questions alone. If you know you need to execute a Healthcare POA but find yourself frozen in place, call us at Atlanta Wills + Trusts Law Group by Refeca Law LLC. We listen to our clients, take heed of their values and concerns, and design a customized Advance Directive for Health Care that guarantees them the kind of healthcare they would approve of.