Although death can be a difficult subject to discuss, it is important that your family knows what to do in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself.
Living wills and healthcare power of attorneys allow your family to know your wishes, should anything happen to you. Toledo, Ohio dog bite attorney Dale Emch discusses the importance of a living will and healthcare power of attorney in his Toledo Blade column, “Legal Briefs.” If you have a general legal question you would like to see answered in Attorney Emch’s column, such as an inquiry regarding dog bites, car accidents, or workers’ compensation, contact our office.
Dear Dale: I have been in poor health for the last few years and recently I took a turn for the worse, which required me to move in with my daughter. Can I give her the right to make decisions for me about my health and medical care if need be?
ANSWER: Most of us don’t like to think about these issues, but whether you’re elderly and in bad health or young and vibrant, it’s a good idea to have a living will and health care power of attorney. It makes sense to have your attorney put them together at the same time you have a will drafted, but you actually can create a living will and health care power of attorney on your own.
Living wills provide peace of mind that your wishes at the end of your life will be followed. They’re powerful documents that address your desires about what type of care you want to receive if you’re not in a position to make the decision yourself.
A living will kicks in when you are terminally ill and unable to express your wishes or when you’re permanently unconscious. In applicable situations, a living will addresses things such as a desire not to receive life-sustaining treatment, whether you want to be hooked up to machines to sustain your life, whether medical providers should attempt CPR, and when feeding and fluid tubes should be removed. At the same time you can still be given medicine to ease any pain.
Physicians will recognize living wills, but two doctors have to agree that the conditions mentioned above apply and that you will not recover.
A health care power of attorney makes a good companion to a living will. This document allows you to designate a person who can make health care decisions for you if you aren’t able to make them for yourself. It’s different than giving someone power of attorney over your finances or over other matters limited to a specific area.
The person given health care power of attorney can make the decision to withdraw or deny life-sustaining treatment provided that a physician determines that you won’t recover and be able to make such decisions for yourself.
But unlike a living will, a health care power of attorney can apply to situations that aren’t life and death. For instance, if you were temporarily knocked unconscious after being hit by a car while riding your bike, the person to whom you gave health care power of attorney can make certain medical decisions on your behalf, such as signing off on an operation or moving you to a different hospital.
Because you’re living with your daughter, you should consider whether you’re comfortable giving her health care power of attorney. If you are, have a detailed talk about your end-of-life wishes. The best way to ensure that your desires are followed is to have a living will, which would trump the health care power of attorney even if your designee wants to take another course.
I would encourage you and anyone else interested in exploring these issues to visit Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger’s Web site at www.lucas-co-probate-ct.org. Not only does it have a tremendous amount of information about these matters, but it has a link that allows you to download forms for a living will and health care power of attorney.