A few months ago, I was planning knee replacement surgery. While providing the required pre-surgical information, including current medications, health history and more, the medical staff asked a question I was unable to answer.
“Do you have a living will or health care directive?”
“Why?” I thought, “Do they think I am going to die?”
No, it turns out, they don’t — but medical professionals and their patients must plan for any eventuality.
Someone must be able to make important health care decisions for you in case you cannot.
In Washington state, there are two primary ways to ensure that someone, other than you, can make these health care decisions if necessary. According to attorney Walter Kruger, who volunteers for Eastside Legal Assistance Program, you can create a health care directive or a durable power of attorney for health care, or both, or combine both in one document. The official term in Washington is health care directive, not living will.
A health care directive is used to inform doctors and caregivers of your preferences regarding medical interventions that you would — or would not — want used to keep you alive in the event that you are seriously or critically injured, terminally ill or unable to communicate due to a coma or late stage dementia. Without this document, these decisions will be made by your family in consultation with health care professionals, potentially in ignorance of your preferences.
A power of attorney and health care directive are frequently created when working with your attorney as part of your estate planning, along with a will and/or trust. However, forms are also available online.
If the health care directive is updated or changed, you should ensure your primary physician and your executor has the updated copy.
Even though you may have communicated your medical wishes in a health care directive, this document can never cover every circumstance. That is why attorneys and health care professionals recommend also having a durable power of attorney for health care. This document designates a trusted friend or family member to act as your health care agent if a physician determines that you cannot make such decisions on your own.
The person you designate as your health care agent has the authority to stop or refuse medical treatment on your behalf; hire or fire medical personnel and make decisions about the best medical facility for you. This designee can also visit you, even if visitation is restricted, and gain access to your medical records. Your durable power of attorney for health care gives your designee the right to make decisions not covered in your health care directive. You can revoke your power of attorney document at any time with a written notice to your agent.
Unlike me, plan ahead. It is important!
Coming of Age…Again is edited by the Kirkland Senior Council, a group the city of Kirkland created in 2001 to advocate for older adults in our community. The council is made up of people living or working in Kirkland who want to improve and maintain the quality of life for people in Kirkland as they grow older. Membership is open throughout the year.