I talk about estate plans on a daily basis, which natural involves talk of loss and dying, but there’s still one conversation I find hard: medical wishes. The end of life medical decisions have to be the most emotional and difficult to make. However, because of that I believe it’s one of the most important conversations to have and an important document to execute.
In Missouri, most legal practitioners offer an advance medical directive with a medical power of attorney in one document (the Missouri Bar even offers a free version here). The medical directive, similar to the living will, states what a person’s wishes are if they cannot make medical decisions for themselves. While there is a standard form most people choose, please realize there are options out there. In St. Louis, I see a lot of Catholic clients and there are different medical decisions people make based on faith. If that or another aspect of medical choices are important to you, then this is a document you should put serious consideration into.
The power of attorney portion, gives another person the ability to make these medical decisions. Most times, the power of attorney will have the ability to over-ride or to choose to follow the instructions in the medical directive. Because of this, it’s so important to choose someone who would make decisions in a way you would respect or ask. I often refer to this person as your medical advocate, because they will be the person making sure your medical wishes are followed.
Another very important part of these documents is the HIPAA authorization. If you’ve regularly visited the doctor before, you’ve probably heard of this, but the HIPAA authorization is what allows the person of your choice to access your medical information. Obviously, this is vital for whomever is making medical decisions for you. However, you can also specific certain people, which is so important if you do not have a traditional family structure and you want partners, step-children, friends, etc., to know what is happening medically.
Now, all of these documents are extremely important to make sure the right people have access. However, these documents only give access and don’t guarantee the decisions you want. Conversations with loved ones are the best way to make sure people understand the choices and can walk away from the experience feeling like they helped, rather than feeling guilty.