What Are Advance Directives?

What Are Advance Directives?

What would happen if you become so severely ill or incapacitated that you are unable to communicate about the medical treatment you do or do not wish to receive? While no one wants to think about being in such a situation, the unexpected can happen at any time, and it is far better to have planned for catastrophic events than to rely on someone else to make difficult medical decisions for you, such as whether you want to be resuscitated when there is no hope of recovery.

Advance directives are written legal documents that allow you to state your wishes as to your medical treatment and the people you want to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so on your own. Having properly constructed advance directives can play a pivotal role in ensuring that your health care decisions align with your values and beliefs, and an attorney can provide guidance to make sure they are done correctly.

What Types of Advance Directive Should You Have?

In Missouri, there are several advance directives that can be essential for comprehensive health care planning. These include:

1. Living Will

A living will outlines the types of medical treatments you would like to receive or avoid in specific situations. For example, your living will states your end-of-life wishes on your medical treatment when there is no expectation of your recovery from a terminal illness or injury and you are unable to communicate those wishes. The living will document guides both health care professionals and loved ones in making decisions that align with your wishes, and it also can prevent your loved ones from having to make difficult choices about your care. Having a living will reduces the chances of confusion or arguments over what is in your best interests and what should be done.

What to Address in a Living Will

Some treatments and medical procedures are painful and can increase suffering, so give careful thought as to whether you wish to undergo them if there is little to no hope of recovery. Examples include situations where you have severe senile dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a degenerative disease like Lou Gehrig’s disease, and situations where you are not expected to recover a desired quality of life or not recover at all. Your living will can specify treatments to be given or withheld in these situations.

The following are important issues you should consider addressing in your living will:

  • Ventilators: These are devices that help you breathe if you cannot do so on your own.  State whether you wish to be placed on a ventilator at all and how long you would want to be on one before being taken off.
  • Supplemental Nutrition: If you are unable to eat, drink, and care for your basic needs, would you want to be fed intravenously or through a tube placed in your stomach?  Under what conditions would you want supplemental feeding and how long would you want it to continue?
  • Medical Treatment: Under what circumstances would you want treatments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, or risky surgeries, if you were not expected to live, and for how long would you be willing to keep having them?
  • Palliative or Hospice Care: Palliative care is treatment meant to reduce pain and focus on keeping you comfortable while your medical treatment continues. Would you want to receive pain medication for comfort and would you want to avoid aggressive treatments and invasive tests? You may also state your desire for hospice care, if available. Hospice care allows comfort care but not curative medical intervention at end-of-life.
  • Decisions for After Death: Your living will can state your desires as to the way you want your remains handled after death, such as whether you want cremation or burial, and whether you would like to donate your body or organs for transplant or scientific research purposes.

2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

This document appoints someone (usually a trusted close relative or friend) as a health care proxy to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own. Speak to the person you wish to designate in advance to make sure they understand your values and what your desires are and that they are willing to advocate for your preferences. Your proxy may have the right to access your confidential medical information, change your physicians and health care facilities, and sue on your behalf. This document should be signed and notarized.

3. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order

This is a document that specifies whether you want to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest. It is important to discuss this directive with your family and health care providers to ensure it is appropriately documented.

Steps to Create Advance Directives

Here are some steps you should consider taking when making your advance directives:

Examine Values and Preferences:

What would you want in worse-case scenarios? Think about situations where you might be unable to communicate your wishes and determine what kind of medical care you would like to receive and what treatments you would not want. Write these down to clarify your thoughts.

  • Consult with trusted health care professionals: Guidance from health care professionals can help you understand the implications and effects of certain treatments so you can make informed decisions.
  • Communicate with your loved ones: Discuss your advance directives with your closest family members and friends so they understand your wishes and are aware of the designated health care proxy. Make sure your proxy is willing to accept the responsibility and knows your preferences.
  • Consult an attorney: While it’s possible to create advance directives on your own, an experienced attorney can answer questions and ensure that the documents comply with Missouri state laws.

Get Help with Advance Directives

Creating advance directives when you ae healthy allows you to consider all of your options carefully and makes it so your loved ones aren’t left with difficult choices. It is especially important to create one if you are faced with terminal illness or surgery.

Creating documents that cover all essential elements and comply with Missouri law, can be confusing, but there is help available from the experienced legal team at the Birk Law Firm. Girardeau, MO, estate planning lawyer Kelvin Birk is a Certified Public Accountant as well as an attorney. This unique combination provides the broad knowledge and experience necessary to solve both legal and financial issues that arise in making advance directives and other estate planning matters.

We offer a free consultation to discuss your individual situation, so call Kelvin today at 573-332-8585.

Attorney Kelvin Birk

Attorney Kelvin Birk

Kelvin Birk is a lawyer as well as a certified public accountant, with more than 30 years of experience in accounting and tax and business consulting, and more than 20 years of experience in numerous legal matters. This combined expertise allows our law firm to provide a level of service above that of other firms. Whatever your legal situation, your attorney at Birk Law Firm can counsel you as to the tax implications. We have experience in providing myriad legal representation services to residents of southeast Missouri and other areas.. [ Attorney Bio ]