Health Care Proxies and Living Wills: What You Should Know

We are a proud nation of independent thinkers known for getting things done. So why is it that, when it comes to making decisions about our final wishes, we often say “I’ll deal with it later”? Doing so, in effect, means that end of life decisions—advance directives about our health care—are all too often being left in someone else’s hands because we just didn’t get around to it until it was too late.

It isn’t that we are unaware of our need for advance directives, including living wills and health care proxies. According to Pew Research Center,

  • 71 percent of Americans have thought about end-of-life treatment preferences, and
  • 95 percent have heard of a living will, but
  • only 29 percent actually have a living will.

Advance directives are essential documents to have—and the sooner you have these forms completed, the better. If you are seriously ill or dying and you are unable to make decisions for yourself, having these legal documents in place can mean the difference between having your final wishes met and not.

The living will is a written statement that lays out the details about the life-prolonging treatments or procedures you agree to if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state. It shouldn’t be confused with a regular will. A living will addresses only issues regarding your medical care while you are still living.

The health care proxy (sometimes called medical power of attorney) is also for end of life issues. The health care proxy document allows you to select someone to make medical decisions for you if you are temporarily or permanently unable to make those decisions on your own. This person is called the proxy. He or she need not be a family member, but someone who you can trust to carry out your wishes even if it is not what they would choose. Keep in mind, too, that a family member may have values differing from yours and may not serve your desires. If you do not name a proxy, however, your closest relative will be named if a proxy is needed.

Do not resuscitate (DNR) is a third common advance directive. If you go to a hospital or nursing home as a patient you will be asked if you have a DNR, as well as any other advance directive. You should know that emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are usually required to resuscitate and stabilize you until you reach the hospital, but this can vary by state.

Selecting a proxy

Perhaps the most important decision you will make related to your health care wishes is your choice of proxy. Here are some general guidelines.

  • The person should be someone you trust absolutely. This person will be standing in for you when you are unable to communicate.
  • You will want to feel confident in discussing your wishes with your proxy and know that he or she respects your right to get the type of treatment you want.
  • Your proxy should be assertive in dealing with authority. He or she may have to assert your wishes against a medical establishment that doesn’t see eye to eye with your orders. This assertiveness may also come in handy with family members who think they know what is best for you.
  • Does your proxy live nearby? To ensure your wishes are followed, your proxy may be required to spend weeks or months visiting the hospital in case of a long illness.

Other issues: If you have both a durable power of attorney for your finances and a health care proxy, make sure both of the agents get along well. Be aware that each state varies considerably in what is required in the documents. Also, if you undergo medical treatment in another state, that state’s rules may prevail.

The information in this communication is not intended to be legal advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual’s situation is different. You should contact your legal professional to discuss your personal situation.

Tune in to “America’s Wealth Management Show” sponsored locally by Life Certain Wealth Strategies Saturdays from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on news radio 630 KHOW.

Provided by courtesy of Herb White, MBA, CFP®, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with Life Certain Wealth Strategies, 8400 E Prentice Ave, #715 Greenwood Village, Colorado,, (303) 793-3999. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Woodbury Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC and Registered Investment Advisor. Life Certain Wealth Strategies and Woodbury Financial Services are not affiliated entities.

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