What is a Health Care Directive?

A Health Care Directive is a written document that informs others (e.g. physicians and family members) about your wishes for your health care and names someone to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to express your wishes yourself. Health Care Directives are also commonly called living wills and advance directives.

Why You Need a Health Care Directive.

On the morning of February 25, 1990, 36 year old Theresa Marie “Terri” Schiavo, collapsed in a hallway in her home. When paramedics arrived, Terri was not breathing and had no pulse. A defibrillator was used several times and she was transported to the hospital where she was intubated, ventilated and eventually given a tracheotomy. Due to the long period without oxygen, she suffered severe damage to her brain. She spent two and a half months in a coma. Approximately one year after her cardiac arrest, physicians diagnosed her as being in a persistent vegetative state.

Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, wished to have Terri’s feeding tube removed and allow her to die. He indicated that Terri had expressed her wishes to not be kept on life support. Terri’s parents contended that Terri would not wish to have her medical care terminated.

The legal controversy stretched on for seven years and included fourteen appeals, motions, petitions and hearings in the Florida courts; five suits in Federal District Court; Florida legislation struck down by the Florida Supreme Court; a congressional committee subpoena to qualify Terri for witness protection; federal legislation; and four denials for hearing before the United States Supreme Court.

This could have been prevented if Terry had a health care directive. At Roulet Law Firm, we advise our estate planning clients to create a plan for their loved ones to follow.

Create a Plan.

Creating a written plan in advance keeps you in control when it comes time to make decisions about your medical treatment, even when you are no longer capable of making those decisions. It also makes it much easier on your family and friends. When your family is left guessing as to what you would have wanted, it can lead to uncertainty, guilt and arguments. Medical staff frequently comment on how important it is to have a health care directive. They see the trauma that families go through when they have to all try to come to a decision about the medical decisions their loved one would have wanted. One notes, "So many families are split up for the rest of their lives over this." By making your wishes known in advance, you are making it easier on those who will have to make decisions for you, as well as your loved ones as they will know that the decisions being made are consistent with your wishes.

What You Need.

A good health care directive has two parts, each of which serves different purposes. The first part is a power of attorney. This gives whoever you name, the legal authority to access your medical records and medical information and authorizes them to make decisions for you. The second part is a living will. This tells your family and medical personnel which treatments you want to receive and those which you do not.

For answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about health care directives, click here.

If you have additional questions about health care directives, or would like to create your own, call us today at (763) 420-5087.

Chuck Roulet
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Nationally Recognized Estate Planning Attorney, Author, and Speaker