Most people understand that protecting assets and deciding how to distribute wealth is an important part of estate planning. However, fewer people think about healthcare issues when planning for the future.
An advance healthcare directive is another important aspect of estate planning, and it covers what happens if an individual is unable to make health- or medical-related decisions.
Types of advance directives
According to the New York State Department of Health, there are five types of advance directives. These are:
- Living will: gives end-of-life care instructions
- Healthcare proxy: appoints the agent who will make the healthcare decisions
- Living will and healthcare proxy: combines the previous two directives
- Medical orders for life-sustaining treatment: outlines treatment preferences regarding sustaining life
- Do not resuscitate order: directs the medical team to not use emergency treatment to restart breathing or heartbeat function
How to choose a healthcare agent
If a person only chooses an agent and does not fill out any of the other advance directives, the agent should have explicit instructions as to what the incapacitated individual wants or does not want. It is also important to note that the agent cannot make any health-related decisions until a doctor declares in writing that the individual is mentally or physically incapacitated to do so. The agent is able to make decisions about some things, such as CPR, without instructions to do so. However, the agent may not decide about artificial hydration and nutrition unless given instructions regarding it.
Because of the major decisions the person will be making, an individual should take the time to choose the right healthcare agent. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, The Conversation Project, an agent should be someone who would honor the individual’s wishes even if they are different from his or her own beliefs or emotions.
An agent should have the confidence to stand up to family members who may argue with the incapacitated individual’s wants, or to ask a medical provider for clarification if there is a misunderstanding.
An agent may not be a member of the individual’s healthcare team or an employee of the medical facility. An individual may also name a different agent at any time.