With Advanced Health Care Directives
For two years, COVID-19 has ravaged the country and health care directives have never been more important. As the virus has spread, doctors and lawyers have joined together to urge Americans to create the proper estate planning documents. With a little foresight – and the right documents – medical providers can ensure their patients get exactly the care they want in the event of their incapacity.
The most critical planning tools for this purpose are a Medical Power of Attorney, a Living Will, and HIPAA Authorization. These three advance healthcare directives work together to declare your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care and to authorize agents to speak on your behalf, should you be unable to speak for yourself.
1. Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney is an advance directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need to be placed in a medically induced coma, this person would have the legal authority to advise doctors about your subsequent medical care.
If you become incapacitated without Medical Power of Attorney, physicians will generally look to someone in your family to make these decisions for you. If no family can be located, they may ask the court to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision maker. In either case, the person given this responsibility could be someone you’d never want having power over such life or death decisions—and that’s why having Medical Power of Attorney is so important.
2. Living Will
While a Medical Power of Attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a Living Will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. For example, if you should become seriously ill and unable to manage your own treatment, a Living Will can guide your agent to make these medical decisions on your behalf.
Such medical decisions could include if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you. It can even cover if you would like your organs donated or special provisions regarding the disposition of your remains. To ensure your medical treatment is handled in exactly the way you want, and to prevent your family from undergoing needless stress and conflict during an already trying time, it’s vital that you document such wishes in a Living Will.
3. HIPPA Authorization
The final document in the advanced health directives trio is a HIPAA Authorization. In 1996, Congress passed a law entitled the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”, known as HIPAA. This law limits the use, disclosure, or release of individually identifiable health information. A HIPAA Authorization grants your agents the authority to request, receive, and review information regarding your health, which can be critical for your agents to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Stay Up To Date
If you’ve already created advanced directives, now is the perfect time to review the documents to ensure they still match your wishes and circumstances. For instance, is the agent named in your Medical Power of Attorney still the individual you’d want making these decisions? Has your health changed in ways that might affect your Living Will’s instructions? Are your values and wishes regarding end-of-life still the same?
Whether you are creating new documents or updating your old ones, you should keep the COVID-19 virus in mind, as it appears bent on sticking around. The highly contagious and life-threatening nature of the coronavirus is something medical providers have never dealt with before, and it has severely strained our nation’s healthcare system.
Don’t Do It Yourself
While you’ll find a wide selection of generic, advance-directive documents online, you shouldn’t trust these do-it-yourself forms to adequately address such critical decisions. This is especially true during the ongoing pandemic, when doctors are constantly tasked with making highly difficult and uncertain decisions for patients suffering from the virus.
When it comes to your medical treatment and end-of-life care, you have unique needs and wishes that just can’t be anticipated by fill-in-the-blank documents. To ensure your directives are specifically tailored to suit your unique situation, you must work with experienced planning professionals like us to create – or at the very least, review – your medical power of attorney and living will.
Open Lines Of Communication
In today’s often virtual world, family members of those who’ve contracted the virus are often not allowed to accompany them to the hospital. This means your agent likely won’t be there in person to make your treatment decisions. While most advance directives give your agent broad authority to communicate with your medical providers, the documents may not explicitly authorize certain types of remote communication.
To remedy this, you may want to consider adding language to your directives expressly authorizing your agent to give directions by phone, Zoom, email, Skype, FaceTime, and other methods. You should bring copies of your directives with you to the hospital to give your doctors, and ensure your agent (and any alternate agents named) have updated copies on-hand as well.
With a Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, and HIPPA Authorization, you can designate health care agents to make decisions for you should you ben unable to do so, tell your agents which decisions you’d want made, and give them authority to access information they may need to make those decisions. Having advance health care directives gives you and your loved ones peace of mind – should anything happen, you’ll know you’re in good hands. If you would like to learn more about health care directives and our process, contact us today.