Estate planning is often viewed as an important step to ensure your loved ones are taken care of after your death. However, it’s critical that steps are taken to ensure that you are taken care of before death. Health care directives fill this need. In Michigan, an advanced health care directive can come in two forms, a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will. What is the difference between these documents and which one do you need?
A Durable Power of Attorney
Durable Power of Attorney (DPoA) for health care is a legally binding document that appoints another individual over your health care decisions when it is determined that you can not make these decisions for yourself. Note that the DPoA for health care applies only to health care decisions. Many often think of someone’s power of attorney as a person designated to make financial and legal decisions. While you may choose the same person, a DPoA for health care is separate from the DPoA for financial matters. The person you choose is referred to as your patient advocate and is empowered to make decisions about treatment, procedures, end-of-life care, organ donation and even arrange for you to be admitted to a nursing home or receive home health care. Your advocate’s responsibilities only last until your health is regained. It is not a permanent designation. You can also revoke your advocate and select someone else if you are considered “in sound mind.” There is a state-wide registry of DPoA’s for health care. So, if you are unconscious, your health care provider can have immediate access to your patient advocate’s name and contact information.
A Living Will
A living will provides individuals with a means of clearly expressing their health care choices. While they may overlap in some ways, the key difference between a living will and a DPoA for health care is that the DPoA focuses on who makes health care decisions. A living will focuses on what those predetermined decisions are. A living will is limited to end-of-life decisions, while an advocate under a DPoA may step in during any temporary disability. Often, individuals use both documents. A clearly-written living will helps the patient advocate fulfill his or her duties as DPoA. A living will specifically lays out what treatments and interventions you are willing to accept, including CPR, mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, dialysis, antibiotics, blood transfusions and pain medication. It can also specify instructions for organ or body donation.
What Estate Planning Documents Do You Need in Michigan?
It’s recommended that individuals have both documents that can work together, especially in Michigan. While 47 states have laws that make living wills legal documents, Michigan has not passed such legislation. In most cases, hospitals have honored them. However, there is no absolute assurance. Sadly, we’ve all heard of cases where families were at odds because no one could make the legal decision to end life. A DPoA for health care is the only absolute way to ensure your wishes are carried out in Michigan. However, a living will is still advisable to complement your DPoA. Having your wishes written down will alleviate controversy if other family members do not agree with the advocate’s decision.
Advance medical directives should be an important part of your estate planning at any age, but especially for the elderly. Traumatic events can occur at any time, making you incapable of making health care decisions. Thinking about health care options ahead of time and putting them in writing is difficult. However, it is loving on your part to remove difficult decision-making from those that love you. The Elder Care Firm specializes in helping older ones and their families prepare ahead. Contact us for a free consultation.