Health Care Directive 101

/ September 8, 2010

Many are often confused as to what is a Health Care Directive, how it works, when and where it can be used and what the benefits are to having a Health Care Directive in place. Some of this confusion can be contributed to the fact that various titles have been used over the years, as is the case in Minnesota.

What

Initially, in Minnesota, today’s Health Care Directive was called a “Living Will.” In 1993, Minnesota enacted the “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.” Due to confusion between a Living Will and the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, in 1998, Minnesota settled on what is known today simply as a “Health Care Directive.”  Living Wills in compliance with MN Statute Section 145B.03 and made prior to August 1, 1989 are still effective.

How

In a Health Care Directive, you name someone as your health care agent. Your agent has the authority to make a wide range of critical medical and mental health decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. This document also allows you to be clear about your own health care preferences, including life support, pain relief, selection of doctors and religious preferences.

You should be certain the agent(s) will be willing to follow your instructions and has similar views about health care and end of life treatment because your health care agent is not required to follow your wishes.

Who

You must be over the age of 18 to complete a Health Care Directive or be named as someone’s health care agent.

When

A Health Care Directive can be durable or not durable. If it is durable, your health care agent can make decisions for you in all instances. If it is not durable, your agent will only have the power to make decisions when, in the judgment of your attending physician, you lack decision-making capability.

Keep in mind, that if a guardian is ever needed of your person, your health care agent will have first priority for appointment as your guardian.

Where

A Health Care Directive is only effective in the state in which the document is drafted and signed. Thus, if you split your time between two states, be sure to have a Health Care Directive executed in both states.

Why

Given all of this, it is important that you have a Health Care Directive in place when you are over the age of 18. By naming a health care agent, you help to ensure that your wishes will be followed. Without a Health Care Directive, medical professionals are only obligated to do what they believe is in your best interest, which may not be what you believe.

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