When an elder lawyer’s client enters a hospital or other medical facility, he or she has the peace of mind that comes from knowing their health care wishes will be made clear to the staff. Sounds complicated right? Well it’s not. Because the attorney and client were able to sit down and go through various situations that could occur and then put together a personalized health care directive – making these emergency situations as stress free as possible.
However, if you don’t have one in place, the hospital will likely ask you to use their forms to create something similar. While it’s certainly better to fill out their forms than to have no health care directive at all, it’s important to remember that your directive won’t be personalized to fit your unique needs, but rather fitted to the masses.
When the hospital or other institution creates their forms, they do so for a wide, generic and unknown audience. The topics covered will be the ones the hospital (or its lawyers) find important, rather than those that are meaningful to you and your family.
So what is a health care directive? Basically, it’s where you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you, should you become unable to do so yourself. Oftentimes, this person is a spouse, but if you are unmarried or simply want to appoint someone else, then a health care directive is especially important, as it makes this clear and removes any and all assumptions.
Remember, if you don’t assign the role, the legal system will do so for you and choose a “close” blood relative, such as your adult children (or your parents, for younger folks) to make the medical decisions you are unable to make at the time. Depending on your own situation, the person appointed might not be the best person to make such choices – making it even more important to sit down with an elder law attorney and put together a customized health care directive.
Provide Guidance About Your Wishes
Your elder lawyer won’t only have you appoint someone, but he’ll also help you make many medical decisions in advance. By recognizing potential medical situations and declaring your wishes, you can lessen the burden for the individual who will ultimately be responsible for your care. For example, what are your feelings about life-sustaining measures such as feeding tubes and respirators? Are there situations in which you would want these used and/or situations where you wouldn’t?
This is also a good place to make any religious or cultural restrictions known. For example, some groups don’t agree to have blood transfusions performed. If this is the case for you, then your health care directive needs to be the place you make this known.
Ideally, you would discuss your thoughts and decisions with the person you’ve named so he or she is aware of your feelings and can use that understanding to guide him or her if other circumstances were to happen. Obviously, your health care proxy won’t cover every potential situation, so it’s beneficial for the appointed person to have a good understanding of your beliefs in order to make decisions that are in alignment with what your wishes would be.
Important to Remember
If you’ve gone through the effort to work with your elder lawyer to create your personalized health care directive, make sure you stick to it and don’t revert back to the hospital’s generic proxy forms. If you already have a health care directive in place, but choose to use the hospital’s forms, you can negate the one you created with your attorney. With that said, if your wishes do change over time, make sure to express those changes with your attorney and the person you’ve appointed to make medical decisions on your behalf.