As parents grow older, their health often declines, sometimes suddenly. This may leave adult children facing difficult medical decisions without knowing what their parents would want for their care. Planning ahead with certain legal documents helps ensure your parents will get the treatment they want even if they cannot speak for themselves.
Setting up different kinds of legal provisions may prevent any ambiguity when your parents need medical care and they are unable to guide their own treatment.
An advance directive is a set of instructions regarding health care decisions. It goes into effect when someone can no longer make medical choices on their own behalf. Advance directives provide clear guidance about treatments preferred in different medical situations, helping to eliminate disagreements between parties when the patient cannot communicate a treatment preference.
A living will is a kind of advanced directive. It provides specific instructions about medical treatments that use artificial means to sustain life. It goes into effect only when death is imminent despite life-prolonging care.
Generally, a living will explains what care people would or would not want if they are near death, terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Common treatments addressed include dialysis, ventilation, resuscitation, feeding tubes and pain relief medication.
Health care power of attorney
A health care power of attorney authorizes someone to dictate medical decisions for another person. This legal document names an agent or proxy who then has authority to choose treatments based on the best interests of the person and previously expressed preferences.
Additionally, a medical power of attorney can add clarity if an advance directive or living will lacks clear direction about a specific situation. The proxy may interpret stated wishes in new circumstances.
According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 45% of Americans have a living will. This means while a significant number of people in the United States have created an arrangement for future health care decisions, many still have yet to do so. Knowing your options may make you more comfortable taking the first step to help your parents map out their future care or make plans for yourself.