Take control of your health care decisions!
With all the advances in medical technology and the many choices that must be made, we should all take the time to put certain documents in place in case we are incapacitated and unable to make healthcare decisions for ourselves. While there can be some differences among states, there are generally three documents to consider: Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA), Living Will, and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). We will touch briefly on these, after which you should seek legal and medical counsel to put them in place as needed.
Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
This is a legal document that gives another person (the agent) the power to make healthcare decisions for you – but only in the case where you are unable to do so yourself. This document should be drafted by a qualified attorney and can be as broad or narrow in scope as you desire.
A Living Will spells out what life-sustaining measures you want your doctor to take, or not take, in the event you are diagnosed as having a terminal and irreversible condition. It does not apply to any other health-care decisions. While we will not go into the specifics of what defines a “terminal and irreversible condition,” the law requires that two doctors, one being your attending physician, attest in writing to this being the case. Again, this document should be drafted for you by a qualified attorney.
Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
The POLST is a bit newer than the HCPOA and the Living Will. It was developed to help the patient and their physician clearly define the scope of treatment in the case of a serious illness where life expectancy is less than a year. While each state has its own version (in Louisiana it is called LaPOST), to be valid the document must be completed and signed by both the patient (or their HCPOA) and his or her physician. While input from a qualified attorney is a good idea, especially in how it works in relation to your other legal documents, the POLST is a state-generated form that does not require legal help to draft and execute.
Our experience in advising clients has made one thing clear: The last thing most of us want to do is plan for our death or for a situation where we will have to rely on others to take care of us. The truth: the first is inevitable and the second is likely.
So, to ensure everything goes the way you want, and to make life easier on the loved ones who will have to handle your affairs, do yourself and them a favor and get your Advanced Care Planning documents in place. As always, please reach out if you would like to discuss this in greater detail.