During the course of a single day you make thousands of decisions that affect your life. Some of those decisions are small and relatively unimportant while others are big and life changing. Imagine how many decisions you make during a week…a month…a year…your entire lifetime? The point is that we are all used to having the autonomy and the right to make decisions for ourselves that impact our lives. It only makes sense then that we should also have the right and the ability to make medical treatment as well as end of life decisions relating to our own healthcare. Unfortunately, if you do not plan ahead that right and ability might be lost to you. If you feel strongly about making your own decisions relating to healthcare both now, and in the future, make sure to include Advance Directives in your plan.
Advance Directives are legal documents that allow you to spell out your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. The State of Illinois recognizes four types of Advanced Directives, including:
• Healthcare Power of Attorney – a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA) is a legal document that allows you to choose someone now, referred to as your “Agent”, who will have the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself at some point in the future. Appointing someone as your Agent does not impact your ability to make your own treatment decisions now. Your Agent’s authority only activates if you are unable to make your own decisions. Your Agent can be anyone you choose except your physician or other healthcare provider. When making decisions for you your Agent is required to follow any specific instructions you give regarding treatment you wish to approve or have withheld. Unless you place limits on the decisions your Agent can make, his/her authority is very broad, covering almost all healthcare treatment decisions. Your HPOA remains in effect until you terminate it, which you may do at any time. You should also appoint a back-up agent in the event your first choice is unable, or unwilling, to serve.
• Living Will – in the State of Illinois, a Living Will is a legal document that allows you to make decisions ahead of time regarding your desire to accept, or refuse, treatments that could delay the end of your life if you have a terminal condition. Unlike a HPOA, which applies under any circumstances, a Living Will only applies when you have been declared to suffer from a terminal condition, defined as “an incurable and irreversible condition such that death is imminent and the application of any death delaying procedures serves only to prolong the dying process.” Like a HPOA, you may revoke, or terminate, your Living Will at any time.
• Mental Health Treatment Preferences Declaration – a Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration (MHTPD) is a specialized document that allows you to make decisions relating to treatment for mental health related conditions only. Specifically, it allows you to decide ahead of time if you wish to receive electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) or psychotropic medicine when you have a mental illness if you are unable to make those decisions at the time. You may also decide ahead of time whether or not you would want to be admitted to a mental health treatment facility for up to 17 days of treatment. A MHTPD differs from both a HPOA and a Living Will in that it automatically expires three years after creation; although, you may cancel the declaration at any time before then as long as you are not currently being treated for a mental illness.
• Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) – a DNR/POLST Order allows you to decide ahead of time that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) cannot be used if your heart and/or breathing stops. If you execute a DNR/POLST Order a copy should be on your person at all times and prominently displayed in your home in the event emergency rescue personnel are called to treat you.
Each if these Advanced Directives allows you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will, in effect, remain in control of your healthcare treatment (or someone whom you trust will), and your wishes will be followed, even if you are unable to make decisions for yourself or express those wishes at some point in the future.
To learn more, or to get started creating your Living Will and other Advanced Directives, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Nash, Nash, Bean & Ford, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.