Advance medical directives are a necessary part of all estate plans.
The possibility that you may become incapacitated and unable to communicate your healthcare wishes is not something that you likely think about often.However, with today’s medical advances in life-sustaining treatment, this is more of a possibility than it was in the past. In order to address what happens should this possibility occur, it is important to include an advance medical directive in your estate plan.
In Colorado, advance medical directives typically consist of two components: living wills and healthcare powers of attorney. It is not necessary to have both of these documents in order to have an advance medical directive, however, it is a good idea to do so. Once an advance directive is in place, it does not affect your right to make decisions regarding your healthcare. On the contrary, it only becomes effective in the event that you are incapacitated.
Living wills address the withdrawal, withholding or administration of live-prolonging procedures if you have a terminal condition and are unconscious or incompetent for at least seven consecutive days. In case of such an event, the living will becomes effective and communicates your wishes regarding life-prolonging treatment, such as defibrillation, respirators, medications, CPR and other treatments that artificially keep you alive. In the event that you specify that you do not want this type of treatment, healthcare workers will still provide pain-reducing treatment.
In addition to addressing the issue of life-prolonging treatments, living wills also allow you to specify what treatments you would like if you are in a persistent vegetative state, as this is not considered a terminal condition under the law. Finally, you may also specify your wishes regarding organ donation.
Healthcare powers of attorney
A healthcare power of attorney is an important addition to a living will, since it applies in situations where a living will would not. In this arrangement, you appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in situations where you are unable to make them for yourself, including situations where you do not have a terminal condition or are not in a vegetative state.
In your healthcare power of attorney, you have complete control over the type of decisions that your agent can make. Additionally, your agent is bound by law to follow any instructions you give. If you also have a living will, your agent must abide by its terms in situations where it would apply.
Speak with an attorney
Advance medical directives allow you to ensure that you receive the type of treatment (or no treatment) that you desire, should you be unable to speak or communicate it yourself. Since your wishes are made known ahead of time, this can save your family considerable stress, since they do not need to make the decision themselves. An experienced estate planning attorney assist you further with putting the necessary documents in place to ensure that your wishes are legally enforceable.