If you or a loved one are advancing in age, or if your health is deteriorating, it may be wise to investigate the possibility of advance directives. Broadly speaking, advance directives are legal documents that convey your desires, if you are incapable of making those desires known yourself. The term “advance directives” generally covers four kinds of documents: living wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney, and Do Not Resuscitate orders (DNRs).
Perhaps the simplest of the advance directives are DNRs. Signing a DNR indicates to any medical professional treating you that, if you ever stop breathing or your heart should ever stop beating, they should not attempt to revive you. There are many reasons people sign DNRs: some fear the health and lifestyle consequences that can result from cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while others have philosophical objections to being resuscitated.
The step beyond that is the living will, which dictates what kinds of medical treatment you are, or are not, willing to accept, if you can no longer communicate those desires with the rest of the world. While this can encompass a DNR, a living will can also include specific directives about certain machines or treatments, whether you would be willing to be tube fed, whether to withhold food and fluids, and so on. It can also address issues related to tissue and organ donation, if you do not have an organ donor card.
The power of attorney is also another kind of advance directive, albeit one not directly related to your health care. Granting someone your power of attorney means they have the right to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, such as paying your bills, operating any business you may own or settling any legal claims or judgments against you. A power of attorney may be granted generally, granting them full control over your legal and financial decisions until their death or incapacitation, or you can sign a special power of attorney that constrains the limits of their authority. A power of attorney can also be durable, meaning it remains in effect even after a person’s death or incapacitation.
Finally, there is the health care proxy. A health care proxy grants someone you trust with the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. Rather than relying on a predetermined set of directives, the person you direct to be your proxy can make major medical decisions for you, including decisions about tube feeding, tissue and organ donation, and of course, whether to resuscitate you or not. For obvious reasons, only someone who you trust to make these decisions on your behalf should be appointed as your health care proxy.
If you or a loved one are dealing with legal issues related to aging, it is best to contact an experienced New York elder law attorney who can guide you and help you plan for your future. The attorneys at Hobson-Williams, P.C. are skilled in all aspects of elder law, and are dedicated to representing clients with diligence and compassion. To speak to an attorney or to schedule a consultation, call 866-825-1LAW.