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The importance of advance directives

Posted October 16, 2013 in Advice Column, Grimes

Every person should have an advance directive in place which expresses your wishes for your medical care and nominates a person to make those decisions for you.

Competent adults have the right to refuse or accept medical treatment after being informed of the procedures and risks. However, there is a concern over how medical care decisions will be made 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.

If you have not executed an advance directive and are unable to make decisions, others will make health care decisions for you, in consultation with your physician. Difficult and emotional decisions may fall to your spouse, your children or your parents. If your family disagrees on a course of action, problems can arise.

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.

Two advance directives are crucial. 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.

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.

These two documents work together. The health care power of attorney nominates somebody else to make medical decisions for you. The living will gives your attorney-in-fact directions on which decisions to make and when.

Advance directives are like a second set of keys to your car. You give them to someone you trust in case you can’t get where you need to go.

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

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