What to Consider When Creating a Living Will and Appointing a Healthcare Proxy

Walt Shurden
Board Certified Elder Law Attorney
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You have had a will on file since your sixtieth birthday. You’re the picture of health, but you want to make sure your children and grandchildren will be provided for if something happens to you suddenly. But what if that “something” that happens leaves you in a coma? Will your children know what kinds of treatment you would want—or whether you would want treatment at all?

Advance planning—with the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer—can resolve these mysteries before they ever arise.

What Is a Living Will, and When Should I Make One?

There are two documents that form the foundation of a living will. The first is an advance health care directive, where a person of sound mind chooses the type of care he does (and does not want) if he is ever incapacitated and not able to make medical decisions on his own. This document should be on file in your hospital medical record, but you can also request a copy for your own files.

Advance Directives Protect a Patient By:

  • Allowing him to choose whether or not he would like life-sustaining treatment in the event of incapacitation
  • Serving as enforceable document to give the patient’s wishes precedence over a doctor’s opinion
  • Allowing those with terminal illnesses to die with dignity
  • Giving the patient the option of a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, preventing care providers from taking life-saving measures if the patient stops breathing
  • Providing a basis for a healthcare proxy to make end-of-life care decisions

The second document you should have on file is a form identifying who you have entrusted to make health care decisions on your behalf. In Florida, this form is called a designation of health care surrogate, but is also known as a durable power of attorney for health care. This person should be chosen carefully, as he or she will have a great amount of power over your medical care.

A Designation of Health Care Surrgate or Durable Power of Attorney Can Do the Following:

  • Remove you from the hospital or care facility
  • Change your doctors or nurses
  • Order, consent to, or refuse treatments
  • Make your organ donation decision
  • Decide whether or not to continue life support
  • Access your medical records (in most cases, authorization must be given in writing as part of designation)

Make Your Health Care Choices Now (and Avoid Problems Later)

Many people do not like to think about what could happen if they are incapacitated by an accident or illness. Unfortunately, a failure to plan only places the burden on your surviving family members, forcing them to make their best guesses at the treatment you would have wanted. If you are not sure you have a living will in place, call the Law Office of Walter B. Shurden today to have us guide you through the process.

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