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What is an Advance Directive and Why is it Important?

What is an Advance Directive and Why is it Important?

Estate planning includes both life and death issues, and one of the most important life issues – especially now with the pandemic – is how you want your health care handled if you are unable to speak for yourself.  One way to address these issues is with an Advance Directive.  Many people have heard of an Advance Directive, but according to a study conducted by Health Affairs in 2017, only about 33% of people in the United States have an Advance Directive.

What is an Advance Directive? To put it simply, an Advanced Health Care Directive (AKA Advance Directive) is a written statement indicating a person’s desires regarding medical treatment in the event that the person is unable to communicate with their doctor. Advance Directives include “Living Wills,” and a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.”  They can also include a Health Care Surrogate Designation, Organ Donor Form, and a HIPAA Authorization.  Essentially though, the purpose of these documents is to make sure your wishes related to your health care are known and that you have the people you choose make decisions for you and obtain information on your medical condition despite privacy regulations.

Understandably, many people don’t want to think about this situation and therefore may put off creating an Advance Directive, much as people put off creating their wills or trusts. However, Advance Directives are incredibly important- especially now with COVID-19. Advance Directives often involve decisions such as what means will be used to keep you alive should you end up in a coma. For example, an Advance Directive may tell a doctor whether you want any of the following used on you:

  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • Ventilator use
  • Artificial nutrition (tube feeding) and artificial hydration (IV or intravenous fluids).

When considering what to include in an Advance Directive, it is important for a person to think about their values and what they want if they are in a situation where they may have diminished physical and mental capacities. Is quality of life more important than simply staying alive? Would a person want their family members to have to care for them in that state? Would a person be frustrated or angry because they couldn’t do the things they used to without assistance or at all?

Another reason why an Advance Directive could be important is to avoid conflict among family members. Should someone not have an Advance Directive in place, it is possible that family members might disagree about whether the person should be kept alive by artificial means or not. Without an Advance Directive, a family can end up needing a court order to terminate life support. This can needlessly prolong a family’s suffering and make someone’s death even more public, costly, and traumatic. Additionally, without an Advance Directive, the burden of making that heart-wrenching decision could be placed on another person.

Advance Directives are always included in the estate planning packages available from Longa Law Firm, including our latest specially priced Will Power Package available to Florida residents.  There are also a number of resources available to help you online, including this site that includes free downloads:  https://www.floridahealthfinder.gov/reports-guides/advance-directives.aspx.

Of course, if you have questions about Advance Directives or want help in creating the right documents, please contact us to schedule a consultation with an attorney.