What is An Advance Directive?

What is An Advance DirectiveBy definition, an advance directive is exactly what the name suggests. It is a set of written instructions (directives) written in advance. The person writing the advance directive does so in order to make sure that his or her wishes are known and obeyed even at a time when they are no longer capable of communicating about them.

A more precise of the definition of an advance directive limits the directives to only documents explaining the testators’ preferences regarding end-of-life care. The documents basically explain the kind of medical treatment and care that you would (or would not) want to receive if and when you become incapacitated.

Advance directives, in this particular context, do not cover any of the testator’s wishes outside the world of end-of-life. Things like inheritance, beneficiaries and the like are not contained within the boundaries of advance directives. A typical advance directive could, for instance, be a living will with a simple instruction to be implemented if/when the testator is rendered incapable. The statement could be something as simple as, “I do not want to be a vegetable. Pull the plug if I stay unconscious under life support for more than one month.”

There are two main types of advance directives that are commonly used within the United States. The first is the living will and the second is the medical power of attorney, also commonly known as a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care. While these two serve similar goals, they are not quite the same, and one cannot be substituted for the other. Most states, however, allow the two to be combined into a single advance directive that can be legally implemented.

A living will contains end-of-life care instructions from the testator but does not specifically name who should implement or oversee the instructions. The advance directive statement given above is a good example of the kinds of statements that you would expect to find in a typical living will. Note that a living will is not the same as a  last will and testament. It becomes void upon the death of its testator unless it contains specific instructions to be followed right after the testator dies. For example, if the testator indicated in the living will that he/she would want to donate organs after they pass, then that wish will have to be respected upon their death.

There are some specific situations in which the provisions of an advance directive can be ignored without contravening the law. The best example of these is emergency medical treatment. Emergency medical personnel do not have to follow the provisions of an advance directive once they are called to the scene. Their job will be to medically stabilize the patient even if the latter has a living will that expressly states he/she does not believe in modern medicine and should never be treated using the same.

The legal requirements attached to advance directives tend to vary from one state to another. Make sure you write yours according to the laws in your state as not all states will honor advance directives from other states.

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