Assume you are in the hospital, unconscious and near death. There is a chance that modern medicine could bring you back to life if your heart is restarted within minutes of your collapse, but it requires somebody stepping up to make decisions on your behalf. What do you wish to happen? Do you want a loved one, or somebody to decide what happens next? Would you like to have a say in how the doctors and your family handle such decisions? If so, you need to understand advance directives including a living will, POLST, DNR, power of attorney and durable power of attorney. By planning ahead, you can choose the medical care you want and take the burden off loved ones during moments of crisis or grief.
Advance directives are legal documents that allow you to spell out your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. They give you a way to tell your wishes to family, friends, and health care professionals and to avoid confusion later on.
A living will is a written, legal document that spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as your preferences for other medical decisions, such as pain management or organ donation.
POLST forms provide guidance about your medical care preferences in the form of a doctor’s orders. Typically, you create a POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) when you are near the end of life or critically ill and know the specific decisions that might need to be made on your behalf. These forms serve as a medical order in addition to your advance directive. They make it possible for you to provide guidance that healthcare professionals can act on immediately in an emergency.
A DNR (do not resuscitate) order tells medical staff in a hospital or nursing facility that you do not want them to try to return your heart to a normal rhythm if it stops or is beating unsustainably using CPR or other life-support measures. Even though a living will might say CPR is not wanted, it is helpful to have a DNR order as part of your medical file if you go to a hospital. Without a DNR order, medical staff will make every effort to restore your breathing and the normal rhythm of your heart.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document you can use to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf. The appointment can be effective immediately or can become effective only if you are unable to make decisions on your own.
General Power Of Attorney
A general power of attorney lets you give someone else the authority to act on your behalf, but this power will end if you are unable to make your own decisions.
Durable Power Of Attorney
A Durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to act on your behalf for any legal task, but it stays in place if you become unable to make your own decisions.
Power of Attorney for Health Care
A durable power of attorney for health care is a legal document naming a healthcare proxy, someone to make medical decisions for you at times when you are unable to do so. Your proxy, also known as a representative, surrogate, or agent, should be familiar with your values and wishes so he or she will be able to decide as you would when treatment decisions need to be made.
Choosing a Medical Agent
Think about who you trust to tell the doctors about what is most important to you and what you would want if you become too sick to tell them yourself. You want to choose someone who will follow your medical wishes, make sure your wishes are known to medical providers and is able to make decisions in situations that may be extremely stressful.
What to Discuss With Your Medical Agent
Advance directives need to be in writing and each state has different forms and requirements for creating legal documents. Depending on where you live, a form may need to be signed by a witness or notarized. If you are not sure where to start be sure to consult a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) or an attorney.
Ty Strahl is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) based in Spokane Washington. Her job is to help navigate the many aspects of aging and to help seniors who are in transition to find the right solutions for their individual needs.