At times, you may be too ill to make decisions about your own medical care, including the right to accept or reject medical or surgical treatments. In that case, it is helpful if you have discussed your thoughts with your family, physician, minister, or others who can assist you and make sure you have recorded these decisions in writing by signing an Advance Medical Directive (sometimes referred to as a “LIVING WILL”).  This allows everyone to be informed of your wishes.

The following are some frequently asked questions regarding Advance Medical Directives:

1. What is an Advance Medical Directive?

An Advance Medical Directive is a document that empowers a competent adult to communicate critical medical information to the healthcare team should that person become incapacitated.

2. What Are the Three Parts of an Advance Medical Directive?

An Advance Medical Directive consists of three parts.  You may choose to complete one, two, or all three of the sections.  The three parts are:

  1. Living Will
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
  3. Organ Donation.

3. What are “Life-Prolonging Procedures?

These are treatments that aren’t expected to cure a terminal condition but only prolong the dying process.  They include cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), machines that breathe for you, the artificial provision of hydration and nutrition by tube, and other kinds of medical and surgical treatment.  If you direct the healthcare team not to provide such procedures, you will still receive medicines or treatments needed to make you comfortable or ease your pain.  You may elect in your Living Will to exclude some or all of these life-prolonging procedures.

4. What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare is a person who you appoint to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are temporarily or permanently incapable of doing so for yourself.  This authority is effective only after two physicians have documented that you lack the capacity to make your own healthcare decisions.  The person you appoint is expected to be guided by your values and expressed wishes, whether verbally or through a written Living Will.

5. What About Organ Donation?

You may wish that medically suitable organs be donated after you have died.  If so, you may record it in the third section of your Advance Medical Directive.  For more information, you may wish to review  Such a decision will not affect your treatment in any way.

6. Will Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Personnel Treat Me If I Have an Advance Medical Directive? 

Yes.  It is often difficult in emergency situations to know if the conditions of the Living Will have been met.  With or without an Advance Medical Directive, EMS will treat you, including the use of life-prolonging procedures.  However, if you wish to refuse life-prolonging measures in such emergency situations, you may complete a “Do-Not-Resuscitate Order.”

7. Must I Have an Advance Medical Directive?

No.  An Advance Medical Directive is just one way of being sure your doctors and your loved ones know what health care you want when you can’t tell them yourself.  Healthcare providers may not discriminate against a person based on whether or not you have or do not have an Advance Medical Directive.

8. What Happens If I Can’t Make Decisions and I Don’t Have an Advance Medical Directive?

Without an Advance Medical Directive, there may be confusion as to what medical care you would have wanted and who should speak on your behalf.  In those cases, Virginia law specifies which family members or guardians would be consulted.

9. What If I Change My Mind?

You can revoke an Advance Medical Directive at any time.

We hope that the above discussion has brought to light many of the issues which must be addressed in the estate planning process. It is intended for informational purposes only and to assist a client in his or her general understanding of the estate planning process. We do not intend for this to be an exhaustive discussion of all issues involved.  Nor do we intend for this information to be a substitute for legal advice.  However, if you have any questions about any of the above information, or if you need additional assistance with your estate planning, please feel free to contact us.