Why You Need an Advance Directive

advance directive

There are some things you do because you know that if you don’t, there will be negative consequences. You pay your mortgage because it is certain that if you don’t, your house will go into foreclosure. Then there are some things that you know you should do, but put off because the consequences are unclear, uncertain, or distant. For many people, creating an advance directive falls into the latter category.

What is an advance directive? It is a document that sets forth what medical care you do (or don’t want) if you become unable to communicate your wishes and whom you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are legally incapable of making them yourself. “Advance directive” is something of an umbrella term describing documents that serve those functions.

Types of Advance Directives in Michigan (and What They Do)

There are two types of advance directives used in Michigan: a health care power of attorney (also called a patient advocate designation or medical power of attorney) and a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Let’s discuss briefly what each of these documents does.

There are two types of advance directives used in Michigan: a health care power of attorney (also called a patient advocate designation or medical power of attorney) and a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Let’s discuss briefly what each of these documents does.

A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint a person, your “agent” or “patient advocate,” to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make a decision or express your wishes for care. This document is legally binding, but you can revoke it or change your patient advocate designation at any time before you become legally incapacitated.

If you do not have a health care power of attorney in place and become unable to give directions regarding your care, your family may have to go to court to obtain a guardianship over you so that they will have authority to make those decisions. A health care power of attorney eliminates the need for court proceedings at a time when your family just wants to focus on your care.

A health care power of attorney should also state your preferences for end-of-life care, and other medical issues such as whether you would want an autopsy or to donate organs. Some of the issues to be addressed include whether you would want to be put on dialysis or a ventilator if needed.

A do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) allows first responders to know that you do not want to be resuscitated in the event you stop breathing or your heart stops. Resuscitation could include mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or use of a defibrillator. In Michigan, a DNR order is effective outside of hospitals and nursing homes, which may have their own protocols regarding resuscitation.

Three Good Reasons to Have an Advance Directive

Now that you know what advance directives are, the question becomes: do you really need them? After all, plenty of people remain able to make and communicate their own medical wishes throughout their lives. While that’s true, you can’t guarantee that you will be one of them. Having advance directives in place is like insurance; you are protected if the worst happens. Here are three reasons all adults need advance directives.

“End of Life” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Late in Life.”

Many people put off creating advance directives because they are young, healthy, busy, and think that they will have plenty of time to do it later. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 has shown us over and over, “end of life” care does not only become necessary late in life. And COVID is just one of the reasons a young person could need someone else to take over medical decision making. Even before the pandemic, accidents and sudden illnesses like stroke put young patients in need of a patient advocate. As people age, becoming at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, having a patient advocate designation in place becomes even more important.

Advance Directives Help You to Clarify Your Medical Preferences.

In addition to being busy and thinking they have plenty of time to create advance directives, many people are uncomfortable with thinking about end-of-life issues, which makes them more likely to put off this process. Admittedly, it can be uncomfortable. But taking the time to clarify now what treatment you are willing to undergo, and whom you want making decisions for you, allows you to not have to think about those issues later. Putting advance directives in place offer peace of mind not just for you, but for your family.

Advance Directives Take a Burden Off Your Loved Ones’ Shoulders.

Having to make medical decisions for a gravely ill family member can be harrowing. Should you push for aggressive and possibly painful treatment in the hope that they will recover, or ask for palliative care to make them comfortable? Is the decision that you are making going to upset other family members? Is it what the patient would want if they could speak?

With a patient advocate designation and, if desired, a DNR in place, you can spare your family that uncertainty. Advance directives prevent bitter fights between relatives over what should be done for a patient, because a patient advocate designation clearly indicates whom the patient wanted to make decisions for them.

Creating advance directives is easy, and should be done in conjunction with the rest of your estate plan, but can be done separately if needed. Hopefully, your family will never need to consult your advance directives. But just knowing that they are in place can provide you all with peace of mind for years to come.

If you have questions about creating advanced directives in Michigan, we invite you to contact our law firm.

Categories: Elder Law
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