The short answer is that if you are an adult over the age of eighteen, yes, you need an Advance Directive.  Questions about end of life medical care are very important today because of the ability of medical technology to prolong life and because of high profile court cases involving comatose or dying patients.  In order to control your medical treatment in such a situation you must record your preferences in advance.

What are Advance Directives?

Advance directives are documents written in advance of serious illness which state your choices about medical treatment and can name someone to make choices about your medical treatment if you become unable to.  Advance directives allow you to make legally valid decisions about future medical treatment.

What does Georgia law say about Advance Directives?

In 2007, the Georgia legislature adopted a new form document called the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare.  The Georgia Advance Directive replaced the Georgia laws on Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Healthcare.  The newer form combines the Living Will and Power of Attorney into one document.  The Advance Directive allows you to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable or unwilling to do so, to indicate what your preferences are with respect to organ donation, donation of your body for a medical study program, to select someone to make choices regarding final disposition of your body and to indicate what your preferences are with respect to end of life medical treatment.  The Advance Directive also allows you to designate a person to serve as your guardian should you need one.

Generally, in Georgia, you have the right to refuse any medical or surgical treatment that you do not wish to receive.  By appointing someone as your agent under an Advance Directive, you give them the same power that you would have to refuse or withdraw medical treatment.  By signing an Advance Directive, you can ensure that your wishes will be followed even if you are unable to communicate them to your doctor.

Are Advance Directives just for senior citizens?

No.  Anyone can have an illness or serious accident at any age.  If you have strong feelings about what medical choices you would make in such a situation, then you should have an Advance Directive.

Can an Advance Directive be changed?

Absolutely.  These documents can be revoked or changed at any time.  If you do make changes to your Advance Directive, please make sure that you destroy the copies of your old Advance Directive and provide copies of the new version to your family and doctors.

Will an Advance Directive be honored in an emergency?

It is usually difficult to determine the chances of survival during an emergency situation or to determine the outlook for recovery.  Until the outlook for recovery is clear, doctors will us what treatments they feel are appropriate.  After the initial emergency has passed and depending on your condition, your Advance Directive will be carried out.

How long is my Advance Directive valid?

Technically, an Advance Directive does not expire, but you are encouraged to update them on a periodic basis (three years or so).  Updating your Advance Directive shows that you have given the matter a great deal of thought and prevents any disputes among family members faced with a ten or fifteen year old document that might no longer reflect what you have told them are your wishes.

What if I’m pregnant?  Are there any limitations on carrying out the instructions in my Advance Directive?

Yes.  The Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare contains a section for you to indicate what your wishes are with respect to application of the Advance Directive if you are pregnant and the fetus is not viable.  If the fetus is viable, the Advance Directive will not be honored until after the baby is delivered.

After I complete an Advance Directive, where should I keep it?

Copies of an Advance Directive are in all respects the equivalent of the original.  Therefore, you could distribute copies to all of your family members and store the original in a safe place.  Often when folks have stored Advance Directives in safety deposit boxes, no one could access them when they were needed.  You could also consider storing your Advance Directive with an online document storage service like DocuBank.  DocuBank will store your documents and send you a card to carry in your wallet.  The card has a 1-800 number on the front of it and the person requesting your Advance Directive can simply call that number and have the Advance Directive faxed in to them.  This eliminates the problem of not being able to access the document, giving you and your family access to your documents 24/7 anywhere in the world you may be.

Will my Georgia Advance Directive be honored if I am admitted for treatment in a different state?

The law on advance directives differs from state to state, so it is not completely clear whether a Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare would be valid in a different state.  Because an Advance Directive is an expression of your wishes about medical care, it will influence that care no matter where you are admitted.  However, if you spend a great deal of time in more than one state, you may consider signing an Advance Directive that meets all requirements of both states.