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Should you think about preparing advance directives?

Recently, you may have begun thinking about advance directives because someone close to you was hospitalized suddenly. Perhaps your brother-in-law was admitted following a stroke. He was unable to speak and was completely dependent on the medical staff to make decisions about his care. His wife, your sister, was concerned about a particular kind of therapy that was prescribed for Jim and wished he could tell the doctors whether he wanted it.

Naming a healthcare agent

The New York Health Care Proxy law allows you to appoint a health care agent, also known as an attorney-in-fact, who can make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself. There are two different situations in which this appointee can help. First, if you are comatose due to a terminal illness, or in a vegetative state, you would be considered permanently unable to make healthcare decisions. The same applies if, as an elderly person, you become senile or suffer from Alzheimer's disease. In cases like this, your health care agent can make decisions according to the instructions you gave in your advance directive. Second, you might only have a temporary inability to make healthcare decisions because, for example, you need surgery, which requires general anesthesia. If needed, your agent can make decisions on your behalf until you have regained consciousness, at which time he or she would no longer have such authority.

The perfect combination

Your advance directive should be comprised of a living will plus a durable power of attorney for healthcare. The DPAHC identifies an advocate-your healthcare agent-who you appoint to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. A living will sets out the kind of care and medical treatments you would or would not want. Keep in mind that your advance directive is designed for health care only, it does not speak to financial or any other matters. Also, the healthcare power of attorney does not go into effect until a doctor states in writing that you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions.

Following through

Do not be like brother-in-law Jim who did not plan ahead. Preparing an advanced directive is not a difficult task, but you may want to consult with an experienced attorney who can answer questions and ensure the document is put together properly. As to appointing a healthcare agent, you might choose your spouse, an adult child or even a close friend; the main quality to be considered here is trustworthiness. Talk to potential candidates. If you have trouble deciding who would be the best choice, your attorney can help.

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