Legal Aspects of End of Life Care

You should inform loved ones and your health care providers about your end-of-life wishes.

It is never too early to execute Advance Directives. These legal documents help to ensure that you receive the medical care that you want or do not want in case you cannot communicate your wishes at the time. Advance Directives can also be used for financial matters. Discuss your needs with an attorney.

The three most utilized documents are:

  • Living Will
  • Health-care Surrogate
  • (Durable) Power of Attorney

Living Will

A living will lets people know what care you would want to receive if you cannot make medical decisions and are terminally ill. You prepare a living will when you are competent. You can put in writing:

  • What type of life-prolonging procedures you want or don’t want
  • When you would want those procedures used
  • The name of a person to facilitate your wishes
  • What role religious faith should play in your care

Your doctor should carry out your wishes. If he or she cannot comply with them, your doctor should transfer you to another doctor’s care. Except in certain circumstances, your family typically cannot overrule your decisions. You cannot request euthanasia or assisted suicide in a living will.

Health-care surrogate (agent)

A health-care surrogate (or agent) serves as the decision maker about health issues if you are not able to communicate your wishes. You can limit the amount of authority you give the person.

You must name your surrogate while you are still competent. A health-care surrogate can make decisions only if you are not able to do so.

You must name your surrogate in writing. Two attorneys must witness it. You may designate an alternate surrogate.

Durable power of attorney

This document outlines what powers you give to another person to act on your behalf when you are unable to act. Again, you must authorize power of attorney in writing and while you are competent to do so.

You can use power of attorney for financial as well as health matters. The person you name can take care of banking, property and other actions. The person can also approve surgical procedures and other medical care.

For more information about Power of Attorney, visit the AARP nonprofit organization’s web site by selecting this link:
http://www.aarp.org/money/financial_planning/estate_planning/a2002-08-12-EstatePlanningPowerofAttorney.html