Have you ever gone to the hospital and been asked if you have a healthcare directive or living will? These documents provide your family and medical staff important direction regarding how you would like medical decisions to be made when you are incapacitated. There are three healthcare documents that I include in my estate planning process: HIPAA Authorizations, Advance Healthcare Directives, and Physicians Directives.
In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted to protect the privacy of your medical records. Although this was a great step toward privacy, it can also be inconvenient if you do not have a HIPAA Authorization in place. Hospitals and clinics are liable if they release health information without authorization. Even close family members have to go through great lengths of red tape to get updates on the status of a loved one while they are in the hospital if the HIPAA Authorization is not in place.
The Utah Advance Healthcare Directive was formerly referred to as a living will. This document acts similarly to a power of attorney for medical decisions. It ensures that your wishes are clearly defined and carried out if you are not able to express them yourself. For example, if you were in an accident that resulted in a coma, you would have a medical agent with legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. This document also outlines whether you agree to be an organ donor or allow your body to be used for medical research after your death.
The Physicians Directive, commonly referred to as a Do Not Resuscitateor DNR, outlines parameters for life support. A few years ago I met with a client who had been named as her father’s medical agent. Unfortunately, her father did not have a Physicians Directive outlining his wishes regarding life support. The emotional burden of“pulling the plug” was left to my client. She explained that she had had multiple conversations with her dad regarding his wishes and knew that he did not want to stay on life support while in a persistent vegetative state. She made the decision to withdraw life support and was later questioned by her siblings as to whether she made the right choice. While she was telling me her experience,she broke down in tears. In my attempts to comfort her, I asked when her father had passed away. It had been over 12 years and she was still carrying that heavy emotional burden.
Conversations regarding end-of-life decisions can be uncomfortable and many people choose to avoid them. However, avoidance does not alleviate the emotional burden of leaving these decisions to a loved one. I enjoy guiding my clients through these discussions. If you need help creating your healthcare documents, give me a call.