What are the differences between advance directives and living will?
Advance directives are oral and written instructions about future medical care should your parent become unable to make decisions (for example, unconscious or too ill to communicate). Each State regulates the use of advance directives differently. On the other hand, a living will is one type of advance directive, which takes effect when the patient is terminally ill.
Advance directives are not set in stone. A patient can revise and update the contents as often as he or she wishes. Patients and caregivers should discuss these decisions and any changes. Be sure to keep the health care team informed regarding any changes. Everyone involved should also be aware of your parents' treatment preferences.
Because State laws vary, check with your Area Agency on Aging, a lawyer, or financial planner. They may have information on wills, trusts, estates, inheritance taxes, insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.
What does healthcare proxy mean?
Healthcare proxy is the person who has the authority to make medical decisions on another person’s behalf . The terms "healthcare proxy" and "healthcare agent" or "surrogate" are used interchangeably. These responsibilities are called "durable" (for example, you may hear the phrase "durable power of attorney") because they remain in effect even if your parent is unable to make decisions.
Most people appoint:
- A close friend or family member
- Some people turn to a trusted member of the clergy or a lawyer.
The designated person should be able to understand the treatment choices and most importantly know your parents' values, and would support their decisions.
The decision to name a healthcare proxy is extremely important. A written document kept in the medical record and identifying the designated proxy, should always be up-to-date.
Durable medical power of attorney forms do not give explicit guidance to the proxy about what decisions to make. Many States have developed forms that combine the intent of the durable power of attorney (to have an advocate) and the intent of the living will (to state choices for treatment at the end of life). These combination forms may be more effective than either of the two used individually.
Each State regulates advance directives differently, so you will need to consult with the physician, nurse, social worker, or family lawyer to know what is required. It's also a good idea to check to make sure that all financial matters, including wills and life insurance policies, are in order.
To learn more about will and other things involved in planning for your family's future, read Estate Planning.
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