Health Care Directives

Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA

As with a Will, documents such as a Health Care Directive (Health Care Surrogate), Power of Attorney and Living Will express in writing your intentions concerning your care and financial matters should you be unable to speak for yourself. Examples include a car accident when you are taken to the hospital, heart attack, stroke, or other emergency medical situation, severe brain injury, or other serious medical event that is not anticipated.

There are almost innumerable possibilities that you face every day that have a risk associated with it of a catastrophic medical event occurring which could significantly change your future and your ability to work, speak and act for yourself, and otherwise conduct daily business affairs. We traditionally do not think about such possibilities, or at least we would rather block it out.

These are relatively simple and inexpensive documents to have completed and signed, but they can prove invaluable in your medical care and conducting your personal affairs.

The Health Care Directive appoints someone to speak with doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make your wishes known. The document itself provides the person with the authority and HIPAA releases to speak with the doctors, but for obvious reasons does not express your intentions for your medical care. The care and treatment you receive, including medications, surgery and other medical procedures are left completely in the hands of the person you appoint. For this reason, it would be good to discuss with this person what your intentions may be if something unexpected and catastrophic occurs.

Health Care Directives are important for spouses, parents with adult children and other situations involving blood relatives and family relationships, so that seamless medical care can be provided. However, Health Care Directives are even more important in homosexual relationships, unions with a partner and cohabitation relationships. The reason is that medical staff and hospital personnel will look first to blood relatives and family members for guidance and to disclose diagnosis and treatment information. A close friend or partner would often be excluded, leaving important medical decisions and information in the hands of family members who may not wish to speak with your partner. A Health Care Directive that appoints your partner ensures he or she has the authority to make decisions on your behalf and receive diagnosis and treatment information.

The purpose of the Health Care Directive is to avoid a situation where a hospital, for example, makes the decisions for what is or is not to be done. They claim to be working in the best interest of the patient, and for the most part probably are. However, this may be entirely different from what you or your health care surrogate have in mind.

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