Which Health Care Directive Do You Need?

How will your loved ones know your wishes if you are unable to communicate them someday? There are many different names for documents that set out your wishes for medical care: advance directive, living will, declaration, power of attorney, patient advocate designation, and so on. All of these are terms for health care directives — that is, documents that let you write out instructions about the type of health care you want to receive, including who should oversee your treatment, if you are unable to speak for yourself.

The Law Offices of George Castrataro, P.A., helps clients draft all types of health care directives to protect their wishes. Our attorneys can advise you on the directive that best fits your situation. To get started, here's a brief overview to help you understand the main differences between some of the most common types of documents.

Living Will

This document bears no relation to the conventional will or living trust used to leave property at death. It's a document that lets you state what type of medical treatment you do or do not wish to receive if you are too ill or injured to direct your own care. (Among other things, you can use it to be sure doctors do — or do not — "pull the plug.") The document may have a different name in your state (it's often called a "declaration"), but you'll recognize it as the place where you write down your specific wishes about types of medical care.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

This document, also known as a medical power of attorney, allows you to name a trusted person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate on your own. The person you name to make these decisions is usually called your agent or attorney-in-fact.

You can give your agent the authority to oversee the wishes you've set out in your health care declaration, as well as the power to make other necessary decisions about health care matters. Some states combine the declaration and durable power of attorney into a single form, most often called an "advance health care directive."

Other Names for Health Care Agents

In addition to "agent" or "attorney-in-fact," health care representatives are sometimes called "proxies," "patient advocates," "surrogates," or something similar. But if you hear the term "guardian" or "conservator," that probably means something different.

Guardians and conservators are court-appointed decision makers, unlike those that you appoint yourself in a health care directive. One of the best reasons to make health care directives is to avoid complicated or stressful conservatorship or guardianship proceedings.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order

If a medical emergency occurs, a DNR order alerts emergency personnel that you do not wish to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). DNR orders are sometimes made to supplement other health care directives, usually by those who are already critically ill and feel strongly that they do not want to receive life-prolonging treatment when close to death. If you are in the hospital, you can ask your doctor to add a DNR order to your medical record. If you are not hospitalized, you can make what's called a pre-hospital DNR order to keep nearby in case paramedics are called to your home or care facility.

Discuss Your Advanced Health Care Directive With A Lawyer

We invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to learn more about the process of preparing a health care directive. Call our Fort Lauderdale firm at 954-573-1444 or contact us online.