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Part of the Plan

Understanding Advance Directives

In our society, one way that we express love is by planning. We plan birthday parties, picnics, family reunions, holiday gatherings. You probably had this month’s Fourth of July itinerary worked out well in advance.Most likely, the plan included fireworks and some sort of a BBQ meal. You might have had a grocery list ready with the obligatory watermelon and ingredients for homemade ice cream.

Planning special events is certainly a way to show your family you love them. But during the carefree days of summer vacations and family celebrations, I propose that you address planning in a deeper way: Consider protecting both you and your beloved in the event that your health leaves you incapacitated.

You can do so by creating something called an advance directive, which an attorney can help you prepare, often for as little as one hundred dollars. An advance directive is a document that details what medical actions you would want taken in the event that you could not make those decisions for yourself. Think of it like directions given in advance of any incapacity.Hence the name – advance directives.Here’s what you need to know.

The first component of an advance directive is a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney allows you to designate a person (your agent) who would be allowed to make health care decisions for you if you couldn’t. For example, an elderly parent could name her child as her health care agent, and that child would be the person doctors turn to for decisions if the elderly woman slips into a coma. The agent can act only as long as the patient is incapacitated, so, if the elderly woman Regains consciousness and is no longer incapacitated, then she would begin making her own medical decisions again.

The second component of an advance directive is a living will.A living will is an expression of your specific wishes. For example, if I wish not to be kept alive in the event of brain death without chance of recovery, then I can specify those wishes in a living will. To be clear, the agent designated in the health care power of attorney is restricted by any instructions or directions given in a living will; in other words, your wishes come first, then the agent gets to make any outlying decisions for you.

Advance directives are for everyone. Certainly, anyone who is elderly, sick, or planning surgery should have one. But so should every other adult. We cannot predict what will come our way, and an advance directive is necessary protection for an unplanned medical emergency.

Most importantly, advance directives are a strong display of love for your family and friends. In the event that something unforeseen happens to you, advance directives can give structure, direction, and clarity to your loved ones. So take the step. Plan an advance directive, and give yourself, your family, and your loved ones peace of mind.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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