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Advance Directives

Posted November 21, 2012 in Advice Column, Beaverdale

An advance directive is a legal document that can preserve your right to make decisions about your healthcare. Competent adults have the right to refuse or accept medical treatment after being informed of the procedures and risks. However, medical care decisions are often required when people are unable to make decisions for themselves. An advance directive states your health care choices in writing while you are still able to articulate your decision.

Q: Can someone make health care decisions for me without an advance directive?

A: Yes. If you have not executed an advance directive and are unable to make decisions, others will make health care decisions for you. However, an advance directive both expresses your health care choices in writing and nominates someone to carry them out. Without a written advance directive, you have no control over who makes the decisions or what choices they make.

Q: What is a durable health care power of attorney?

A: A durable health care power of attorney is a document through which you name another person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them. The person, known as your “attorney-in-fact,” is required to make decisions according to directions you provide. If your wishes are not known, your agent will make decisions in your best interest based on the discussions you have had with your agent. The document is “durable” because it is still effective even if you become incapacitated or incompetent.

Q: What is a living will?

A: A living will is a document that expresses in writing your directions for your medical care if you are unable to express your wishes yourself. It can direct your physician to withhold or withdraw certain life-sustaining procedures if you are in a terminal condition. However, it can be much more comprehensive than that, and can include what you want to happen in various situations.

Q: How do these two advance directives work together?

A: The health care power of attorney nominates somebody else to make medical decisions for you. The living will gives your agent directions on which decisions to make and when.

Q: What if I change my mind?

A: You may change or revoke an advance directive at any time. While Iowa law does not require you to revoke an advance directive in writing, your physician must be informed.

Information provided by Ross Barnett, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623,

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