When you create an estate plan, there are three (potentially four) major documents that should be drafted. Everyone should have a (1) Last Will and Testament, (2) Power of Attorney, (3) Advance Medical Directive and, potentially, a (4) Revocable Living Trust. The first three items are the bare minimum you will want to have to ensure your wishes are executed and help make the process easier for loved ones when you are incapacitated or have passed away.
Today we would like to discuss the third document, the Advance Medical Directive; what it entails, how it differs from a “Living Will” and their importance in your estate plan.
What is an Advance Medical Directive?
Simply stated, an Advance Medical Directive is a legal document where you can designate someone else to make health care decisions for you. An Advance Medical Directive will guide loved ones and doctors to make appropriate choices if you become terminally ill or incapacitated and can’t act on your own. They take the uncertainty out of the decision and make your wishes easier to follow.
How does an Advance Medical Directive differ from a Living Will?
Georgia adopted the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare on July 1, 2007. Prior to that, Georgia used two documents for healthcare directives, a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. A Living Will is a document where you list your wishes regarding specific medical procedures. It can only be used when you can’t voice your own opinion (i.e. when you are in an irreversible coma). A Living Will is typically specific to address how you feel about life-ending versus life-sustaining measures. You can also express your wishes pertaining to other near-death or end-of-life situations, like the use of a ventilator or organ donation.
A Living Will does not name a person to speak or make decisions for you. It merely states your wishes and explains when you want caregivers to attempt to prolong your life or stop life-sustaining measures. The Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare appoints a healthcare agent who can legally make medical decisions for you. It combines all of the important features of a Living Will with the appointment of a legal representative to make sure your wishes are carried out.
Some healthcare providers assist patients with preparing Living Wills using forms like Five Wishes. These documents do not appoint a legal representative for your healthcare. So while a document like Five Wishes is helpful, it is not a replacement for a properly executed Advance Directive.
Why are Advance Medical Directives and Living Wills important?
By incorporating these documents as part of your overall estate plan, you can get the medical care you want, avoid unnecessary pain, and relieve loved ones of the burdens of making decisions in times of grief or crisis. You also help eliminate disagreement and stress among loved ones making choices on your behalf.
Unexpected medical situations can happen to anyone, at any age, therefore its important for everyone to prepare these documents. At Smith Barid, our trusted will and estate planning attorneys can help you complete these pieces of your estate plan. Please contact us today to begin or review your plan.