All Missourians face an inevitable end to their life. When or how this event will occur cannot be predicted, but certain step can be made to preserve and distribute a person’s assets in accordance with their wishes. Wills and trusts have been used to carry out these wishes for centuries.
A more troubling aspect of mortality is the possibility that a person will suffer a severe and disabling injury or illness that may deprive the person of the ability to make decisions about their health care. The legal and medical professions have combined to create a planning tool that addresses this problem. It is called an advance directive.
What is an advance directive?
As the name implies, an advance directive is a set of orders given by a person before his or her death. One type of advance directive is a durable power of attorney for health care. This type of advance directive gives legal power to another person to make medical decisions for the person executing the advance directive. A similar type of advance directive is a health care proxy. Like a durable power of attorney, a health care proxy appoints a third person to participate in medical decisions if the issuer of the proxy is unable to do so. In both cases, the maker of the directive must be alive and possessed of the mental and physical powers to understand and to authorize the directive.
How does the directive work?
Many different forms can be used to issue an advance directive, but virtually all such forms contain similar questions regarding end-of-life care, what to do if the maker is in a persistent vegetative state and when should medical care be withdrawn. The answers to these questions are then used by the maker’s physicians and the holder of the power to make crucial decisions regarding medical care for the maker. Most advance directives have perpetual validity unless the maker issues an amendment or revokes the directive entirely.
Advance directives should be issued by everyone over the age of 18. The existence of an advance directive can provide significant guidance and comfort for family and loved ones. Anyone interested in issuing an advance directive may wish to consult an experienced estate planning attorney for advice on completing and distributing the directive to the necessary people.