4 Vital Facts About Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: Ensure Peace of Mind

Have you ever considered what would happen if you were unable to make medical decisions for yourself? It is not the most cheerful thought, but it is an important one. That is where a document known as a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care steps in.

When it comes to your health, ensuring your wishes are followed in critical situations is paramount. In Idaho, the living will and durable power of attorney for health care are combined into a single document for end of life and health care decisions. The word “durable” means that it stays in effect even if you are incapacitated, which is when you need it most.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that allows you (the principal) to designate a trusted individual (an agent) to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. This designated person can be a family member, a close friend, or anyone you trust to act in your best interest. You may not choose your doctor or other treating medical provider to be your agent.

Idaho Code § 39-4510 explains in details what is required in a power of attorney for medical care. Together with the living will, it is referred to in Idaho Code as an “Advanced Care Planning Document.”

The Significance of Living Wills

A living will, also known as an advance directive, complements the healthcare power of attorney. This portion of the document outlines your preferences regarding specific medical treatments or life-saving measures in scenarios where you are unable to communicate your wishes. It provides clear instructions for medical professionals and your agent about the types of care you want or do not want.

Why You Also Need a HIPAA Release

Sometimes you may want your family members or other trusted people to be able to talk to your doctors and get information, but you may not necessarily want them to be able to make decisions on your behalf. A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release allows you to name as many people as you want (but always include your agent) to have access to your medical records and to allow your doctors to talk to them about your care. This release does not give anyone the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Steps to Creating Your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

  1. Choose Your Agents: Select a trusted individual to act as your agent. This person will step in when you are unable, specifically when you are incapacitated, meaning you are unable to make decisions on your own. This could happen when you are physically unable to communicate, or when you are mentally unable to make decisions. If possible, you want to identify two or more people to act as agent. If the first person on your list is unwilling or unable, then the next person on your list will act on your behalf.
  2. Create your Document: Write your living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare with clear and precise instructions. Idaho Code requires that your document (at a minimum) includes your name, birthday, telephone number and mailing address. You will also want to list your agents and their contact information in addition to a specific list of your wishes. If this is not something you have experience doing, many lawyers create these types of documents either alone, or as part of a comprehensive estate plan.
  3. Sign It: Idaho Code requires that you sign and date the finished document.
  4. Distribute It: Provide copies to your healthcare provider, designated agent, and family members. If you are not comfortable giving everyone a copy, then identify a place to keep your document and let your agent and family know where it is.
  5. Keep It Current: Many healthcare providers want to see that your living will and durable powers of attorney are current. 3 years is a good rule of thumb to update your documents. In that time your wishes may have changed, or the people you want to act as your agent may not be the same.

Revoking Your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

In Idaho, you may change your living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare as your situation or preferences change. If you want to create a new document, you need to revoke the prior one, which you can do by destroying your old document, signing a written statement saying you revoke it, or verbally telling someone you want to revoke it. There are a few other ways to revoke this document, and if you want to learn more, you can review Idaho Code § 39-4511A.

Next Steps: Peace of Mind Through Preparation

If you do not have a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare already created, then you need to get that handled because waiting until after you need it may be too late. Find an estate planning attorney in your area to help you get everything written correctly and then get it signed.

If your living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare is more than 3 years old, you may want to get it updated to ensure all your agents and wishes reflect your current situation.

Remember, these legal documents not only grant peace of mind to you but also tell your loved ones what you want done, thus they may relieve your loved ones from making challenging decisions during stressful times.

For more information on creating living wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare in Idaho, take a peek at our website or give us a call so we can guide you through the process.