Most people think estate planning documents focus entirely on what happens to your property after you pass away. However, modern estate planning actually includes documents that protect your rights and interests during your lifetime as well.
Advance directives provide two ways to safeguard your autonomy when it comes to health care. These critical documents should be part of your plan.
The Purpose of Advance Directives
Advance directives take effect when you are unable to make or communicate decisions about your medical needs. You might be unconscious after a car accident or in a coma due to an illness. Whatever the reason, advance directives can ensure that doctors know your wishes for treatment and have the authority to follow your instructions.
If you never reach a point where you are considered incapacitated, then these documents remain dormant. They only take effect when and if you need them.
Two Types of Advance Directives in Maryland
Maryland law recognizes two types of directives. These documents work well together, but it is certainly possible to execute one without the other.
Health Care Agent
You can name a health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. The document authorizing your agent is often referred to as a medical power of attorney or health care power of attorney.
The person you choose to serve as your agent does not have to be an attorney or have any legal training. While many people choose a close relative to be their health care agent, you may select anyone you trust to make decisions about the type of treatment you should receive. It is a good idea to talk to your agent and make sure they understand the responsibility and are willing to fill this important role. You should also make sure they know your wishes regarding medical care.
Health Care Instructions
The second type of advance directive provides instructions to doctors and other health care providers about the type of treatment you want to receive in certain situations. This document is sometimes called a “living will” although it is not much like a traditional will at all.
Your health care instructions should be tailored to your specific desires. An attorney can discuss various scenarios and review types of treatment you may want to receive or decline. Often the treatment options discussed in health care instructions include:
- Use of ventilators and other forms of life support
- CPR and other efforts to restore heartbeat or breathing
- Feeding tubes
- Pain relief medicine
The instructions often work well in combination with a designated health care agent. They help the agent determine when to authorize or withdraw treatment, reducing the burden these types of decisions can place on someone.
An Experienced Attorney Can Prepare Advance Directives for Your Specific Situation
To protect yourself and enable loved ones to help you receive medical care that aligns with your wishes, you should have a Maryland lawyer prepare advance directives designed for your circumstances.
If you had documents created years ago or in another jurisdiction, the language may not have the legal effect you need, so it is a good idea to update your directives. To get started, call the Law Office of Ralph W. Powers Jr., P.C. for a confidential consultation.