Becoming more common in the last few years, an advance medical directive – as well as a living will, which is a species of the directive – delineates your wishes primarily concerning medical care in the case of a terminal condition or severe incapacitation. The purpose is to clearly indicate what you want before you are unable to make decisions and articulate your wishes. So it is, at bottom, an act of love because it relieves your loved ones of the anguish of having to make (usually) very tough end-of-life decisions on your behalf.
Advance medical directives and living wills can be general or very specific. They are legal documents that most often contain your directives for medical-care preferences, providing legal guidance for caregivers, doctors, and other medical professionals. The trend lately, however, has been to move away from an exclusive medical-care focus to include religious concerns, personal goals and values, and health outcomes.
An advance medical directive usually takes one of three forms: living will, power of attorney, health-care proxy. Because the aim is to state what you want for your medical care when you are unable to make those decisions yourself, the directive may:
More specifically, the scope of a living will (one form or species of the advance medical directive) often comprises pain relief, artificial hydration and feeding, CPR, ventilators, and DNR. It also usually contains a statement to the effect that if your physician determines that your condition is irreversible and/or terminal, you do not want to receive life-sustaining measures that would only prolong the dying process.
Executing Advance Medical Directive
Virginia law specifies that for an advance medical directive to be a legally binding document, the declarant (you) has to sign it in the presence of two witnesses who also sign it. But an oral statement of your wishes may also be legally binding if you still have the capacity to make an informed decision and the attending physician has diagnosed you with a terminal condition. An oral advance medical directive like this must be made in the presence of the attending physician and two witnesses.
You also need to be aware that for the document to be fully binding in Virginia, you (the declarant) must provide notice to your attending physician that you have completed an advance medical directive. The physician then has to make a copy of the directive and include it among your medical records. Further, if you submit your directive to the Advance Health Care Directive Registry, you are responsible for making sure your physician, legal representative, and other key people can access the directive.
An advance medical directive can also authorize an agent to act on your behalf in making decisions and taking whatever actions are necessary to carry out your stated wishes. Your agent’s authorized powers can include (among many other possibilities):
It really is wise to prepare for the worst now with a well thought-out and carefully crafted advance medical directive and a living well. As you can see, though, the whole thing can be very confusing and highly complex. At Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia, we specialize in the areas of living wills, power of attorney, and estate planning. Contact us for more information by calling (703) 492-9955 or using our online contact form to discover more about how we can help you make a tough time easier for your loved ones.