Personal Injury Lawyer

What exactly is an advance directive? It is known by many names: living will, personal directive, advance healthcare directive, or advance decision to name a few.  To the point, it is a document that explains to others (your family, loved ones, and physicians) what your wishes are in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

By the time we reach retirement age, most of us have thought about what we want to happen when we pass away and have discussed it with their estate planning attorney in Ridgefield, CT. However, what if you are unconscious? Do you want to have feeding tubes? What about dialysis and breathing machines? These are the sort of issues an advance directive can solve in an emergency.  It takes a great deal of pressure off those you care most about. It also must be pointed out that it is never too early to create one of these. Unfortunate events happen every single day to people, both young and old.

As stated above, an advance directive is not simply about whether to resuscitate.  There are many other aspects of this document. You are welcome to put in as much or as little information as you would like.  Some of the most common topics addressed are:

  • The use of feeding tubes, dialysis and artificial respiration
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillation (AED machine)
  • Organ and/or tissue donation
  • Where you want to be (at home or in a hospital)
  • Religious beliefs

It may also include a durable power of attorney, but it is not required.  This is a portion of the document that names a health care proxy, someone to speak on your behalf that you trust to make your health decisions when you are not able to.  You may name one person as well as an alternate (in the event that your first choice is unable, or unwilling, to take on the responsibility).

In both roles, they may not be an employee of a care facility in which you are receiving your care, the doctor managing your care, or an employee of the facility you are receiving your medical care. You have the option of limiting the authority of the proxy, if you so choose, and that must be noted in the document as well. Otherwise, the decisions that this person would potentially make are:

  • Consenting to refuse any care or treatment
  • Discharge (i.e. “fire”) your healthcare provider
  • Approve diagnostic tests
  • Quality of life (feeding tubes, resuscitation, etc.)
  • Organ donation and autopsy requests

Advance directives do have some restrictions before taking effect.  First, two physicians must agree that you are unable to make your own medical decisions and that you are in a medical condition in which one would be necessary.  It may be helpful to know that they are valid in all 50 states, however not necessarily valid across state lines.

Also, once you become conscious again and capable of making decisions, your agent may no longer act on your behalf. Finally, emergency medical technicians cannot honor any advance directive, as they are obligated to stabilize you and get you to a hospital.

An advance directive is a pertinent tool to have available in a time of medical crisis.  No one ever anticipates when a car accident or other untimely event is going to occur, so it is by far better to have one on hand as soon as possible if you have specific requests about your care.  They do not expire, so once it is done, it will be effective indefinitely, unless you choose to revoke it or update the information.

You will want to keep your copy in a safe location, such as in a fireproof lock box, and give a copy to your proxy if you choose one. Anytime undergoing a medical treatment that requires anesthesia, it would also be wise to give your health care professional a copy of your directive to have on file, in case of an emergency.


Thanks to Sweeney Legal for their insight into estate planning and advance directives.