Your Advanced Directives: Will They Be There When You Need Them?
Having practiced in the Elder Law field for more than a decade and a half, I have drafted and helped enforce many medical directives for clients and their families over that span. However, nothing was as impactful to my practice, and how I utilize these documents for clients, as was the hospitalization and eventual passing of my mother. When you are using these very documents in “real time” for your loved one, you are desperately aware of their practical importance.
Do I dare ask the question: “How Useful Are Your Medical Directives?”
I ask this question because I believe it is a crucial one to be able to answer. Isn’t your quality of life important to you? If we can assume it is, it seems safe to also assume that expressing your wishes when it comes to medical care, quality of care decision making, and end of life planning are all truly important.
To fully answer the above question, let’s first look at whether you have executed the appropriate documents. In a recent blog entry, we discussed how necessary it was to have executed a Health Care Surrogate document. In today's blog entry, we are going to focus on a document that describes how you would like end of life decisions to be made known as a Living Will.
In Florida, everyone should execute a Living Will. A Living Will, not to be confused with a Do Not Resuscitate (“DNR”) or a Last Will & Testament, is a legal document that details whether or not you want to be kept on life support were you to be determined to be in a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state, or if death were to be considered imminent. All of the above assumes that you are unable to communicate what you desire yourself.
For example, were you to be determined “irreversibly brain dead” after a horrific car accident would you want to be kept alive on machines? Were you to be in your last stages of battling terminal cancer, and unconscious due to your illness, would you want feeding tubes inserted to feed and hydrate you? As you can surmise, these are delicate questions that need to be addressed beforehand and the best way to have them answered is to have a Living Will that evidences your wishes in these circumstances.
Past experiences, knowledge of what such treatment can be like, and religious tenants are just a few factors that some consider when executing a Living Will. Whether you are the type of person that says “Just let me be comfortable when the time comes” or if you are someone that says “I want my to be kept alive no matter what the circumstances”—it’s imperative that your desires be documented appropriately.
Unfortunately, many Florida residents can recall the tragic sequence of events that led to the decade long Terry Schiavo court battle as to whether she should have been kept alive artificially. Regardless of how you feel on the end of life subject, nobody wants to endure that kind of dilemma for themselves or for their family. Make your thoughts and beliefs known and discuss them with your Surrogate(s) as well so that they know how to best honor your wishes.
Let’s move forward now and assume that you have executed these pivotal documents (Health Care Surrogate & Living Will). How will you be certain that they will be known to exist and available when needed? The following are some methods to ensure that they are known and available when you need them most.
First, let the designated Health Care Surrogate(s) have a copy of the document. By doing so, the Surrogate(s) can provide the document once he or she is aware of the emergency.
Second, ask your primary physician to accept a copy of your documents into your medical file. Once hospitalized, a primary physician’s file will be retrieved. If your documents are part of that medical record, then it has a greater chance of being located when desperately needed.
Third, keep something on your person that states that you have executed such documents and how they can be located. For example, my law firm provides a special business sized card that states a Health Care Surrogate and/or Living Will was executed in our office and that we can be contacted for copies. We advise our clients to keep that card behind their driver’s license or photo identification as such will be reviewed in the case of an emergency.
Fourth, we offer an innovative online portal where these documents can securely be accessed by clients and their families no matter where they may be physically at the time of an emergency. It even enables us to message and video conference with the family to guide them through such difficult times.
By now I hope I have convinced you of the significance of having top notch health care advanced directives and that they be easily accessible when needed. If you need any assistance in executing health care advanced directives, please contact an experienced and competent elder law attorney (one that is board certified preferably) to assist you.