What is a Health Care Directive?

A Health Care Directive (sometimes called a Living Will or Advance Directive) is a legal document that allows you to express your wishes for future medical treatment when you are unable to express them or are near death. The document allows people who clearly do not want their lives prolonged to make their wishes known.

Your Health Care Directive is only used if you have a terminal condition as certified by two physicians, where life-sustaining treatment would only prolong the process of dying; or you are certified by two physicians to be in an irreversible coma or other permanent unconscious condition and there is no reasonable hope of recovery. In either situation, your directive allows treatment to be withheld or withdrawn so that you may die naturally.

In your Health Care Directive, you may also direct whether you would like artificially provided nutrition (food) and hydration (water) stopped in the above situations. You may also give further written instructions regarding your care. If you have given someone else authority for making decisions, through a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, you may also direct that person to follow and honor your Health Care Directive. You can change or revoke your Health Care Directive at any time.

Your Health Care Directive must be signed by you and two witnesses who are not related to you by blood or marriage and who will not inherit anything from you. Your witnesses may not be your attending physician, an employee of your attending physician or a health care facility in which you are a patient.

You are encouraged to discuss your Health Care Directive with your physician and family members. If you have any legal questions or concerns about the use and effect of this directive, we would be happy to discuss them with you.

How long is my Health Care Directive good for?

Your Health Care Directive is valid indefinitely, unless it contains a predetermined expiration date, or it is specifically revoked by you in a separate writing. Your Health Care Directive should be reviewed from time-to-time to insure it accurately reflects your current wishes.

Is my Health Care Directive valid in another state?

A Health Care Directive that meets the requirements of your home state may not meet the requirements of other states. Most states, however, will recognize a properly completed Health Care Directive that is legally executed in another state. If you have a dual residency or spend a lot of time in another state, you may wish to consider having your Health Care Directive meet the laws of both states to the extent possible.

What should I do with my Health Care Directive once I have completed it?

You should make sure that your Health Care Directive has been properly signed, dated, and witnessed by two adults, each of whom should NOT be a person who is also designated as your Health Care Agent, if any is appointed, to avoid any appearance of coercion. Keep the original with the rest of your important papers and in a location where your family can find it in case of an emergency. Safe deposit boxes are NOT a good place to keep your Advance Health Care Directive because your family may not have access to the box without a court order, which may take time to obtain. If someone else has authorized access to your safe deposit box, you may place a copy of your Health Care Directive in your box together with a note of where the original may be found. You may also register it online with the U.S. Living Will Registry, so that family members may have easy access to it.

Give copies of your completed Health Care Directive form to your family, your doctors, health care providers, your appointed Health Care Agent, if any is appointed, and anyone else who is likely to be called if you experience a medical emergency. You should instruct these people to present a copy of the form to any hospital, health care provider, or medical personnel upon demand.

If you anticipate surgery or hospitalization, you should bring a copy of your Health Care Directive with you and give it the hospital admittance personnel. A copy of your Health Care Directive, rather than the original, may be relied upon by your doctors in most instances.

Before you begin giving your Health Care Directive to your family, doctors and others, as mentioned above, you should first create a list of people who you intend on giving it to, including their addresses and telephone numbers. You should attach this list to the original for safe keeping. Should you ever decide to change or revoke your Health Care Directive, you will need to know who you gave previous directives to so not to cause confusion in a time of need or in case of an emergency. Anyone who subsequently receives your Health Care Directive should be added to your list.

Can I revoke my Health Care Directive?

You are free to revoke your Health Care Directive at any time. This can be done with a Revocation document or simply destroying the original Health Care Directive. To insure that the revocation is recognized, you should inform both your doctor and other health care providers so that they are fully aware of your decision. You should do this, in writing, as soon as possible after revoking your Health Care Directive. You should also send notice of your decision to everyone on the list you created of people who have received a copy of your Health Care Directive.