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Advanced Directives – What They Are and Why You Need Them

Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C.

An Advance Directive lets you communicate your health care wishes to your family members and health care providers, even when you are no longer able to do so on your own. There are two common types of Advance Directives in Colorado, a Power of Attorney for health care decisions, and a Living Will. In an effort to help individuals learn more about the distinctions between these two directives, and to explain how these documents can help we’ve broken it down below:

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney for health care decisions is a type of Advance Directive that allows you to name a person to make medical decisions on your behalf.  You may choose whether you would like the Power of Attorney to be effective immediately or whether it should become effective only when you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Once your agent has the power to act on your behalf, whether immediately or upon your incapacity, the agent has the authority to make decisions to the same extent you would be able to make such health care decisions. 

When selecting an agent to appoint under a Power of Attorney it is important to inform that person of your desires in regards to health care decisions, including your desires concerning life-prolonging care, treatment, services, and procedures so they may act consistently with your wishes. 

Living Will

A Living Will tells your doctor what level of artificial life-sustaining support measures you would prefer to receive if you become terminally ill or if you are in a persistent vegetative state and are unable to communicate your wishes. The life-sustaining support would only serve to prolong the dying process, which is why some people prefer to abstain from any life-support whatsoever. In an Advance Directive, you have the option to continue with support indefinitely, to use life-support for a specified period of time, or to discontinue life-sustaining procedures altogether. 

In a living will, you may also elect whether you would like to have artificial nutrition and hydration when you have a terminal condition or if you are in a persistent vegetative state. Within that directive, you have the power to specify the length of time such treatment should be provided.  You may also choose to receive treatment that solely aims to maintain your comfort and manage pain (while still following your other directions as to life-sustaining treatment). 

Your Living Will may also outline specific decisions regarding organ and tissue donations, or donating your body to science. In Colorado, a Living Will does not take effect until the following two statements are true: you are unable to make your wishes known and two doctors agree, in writing, that you have a terminal condition with no chance of recovery (or you are in a persistent vegetative state).

Do I Need Advanced Directives?

If you already have a Power of Attorney for health care decisions or a Living will, it is important that you periodically review these documents. Circumstances change that may require that you select a new agent, or your view on life-prolonging treatment may shift with time. You can change your directives at any time and should consider reviewing your Advanced Directives if you are diagnosed with a terminal disease or after a change of marital status to ensure your Advanced Directives continue to reflect your wishes.  Entities have a history of rejecting Power of Attorney documents that are more than five years old, so you should also make a habit of updating your directives routinely.

If you are interested in creating or revising your Advance Directives or any other estate planning, please reach out to the attorneys at Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. to discuss further.

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