End-of-life decisions and directives can be one of the hardest parts of estate planning. However, having an advanced directive can save your loved ones much stress and anguish in an already difficult time. The end-of-life directives are typically completed as part of the estate planning process but can be done at any time, independent of the estate planning process.
An end-of-life directive can be included in a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA). The HCPOA is a document that identifies a person (Agent) who has authority to act for someone (Principal) when the Principal is not able to act for themselves. An end-of-life directive in a HCPOA gives the Agent authority to withdraw artificial life support. However, the Agent is only permitted to withdraw life support if two physicians have determined that the Principal is permanently unconscious.
A Living Will can also be used as the end-of-life directive. This document states that in the event two physicians have determined a person to be permanently unconscious, the physician or hospital is directed to withdraw artificial life support. The Living Will is essentially a person’s statement that they do not want to be kept on life support.
There are usually two different lines of thinking when it comes to deciding between the HCPOA and Living Will for the end-of-life directive. Generally, the decision to use the HCPOA as the end-of-life directive sounds something like: “this is a really important decision, I want a family member involved”. With a Living Will, the thought is: “I don’t want to burden my family with the end-of-life decision, I don’t want to be kept on life support”.
There is no right or wrong answer as to whether to use a HCPOA or Living Will as the end-of-life directive. However, it is important to make the decision and have an end-of-life directive in place. In an already difficult and stressful time, the end-of-life directive will lessen the burden on your loved ones by expressly stating your wishes as to artificial life support.
Normally, it is advisable to have an attorney draft legal documents. However, the HCPOA and LW are documents that can be completed without the assistance of an attorney. A few years ago, the medical community and legal community cooperated to develop a standard form for the HCPOA and Living Will. These documents can be downloaded from the internet and completed relatively easily. The HCPOA can be downloaded at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/-/scassets/files/org/medicine-institute/health-care-power-of-attorney-form.pdf?la=en and the Living Will can be downloaded at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/-/scassets/files/org/medicine-institute/ohiolivingwill.pdf?la=en . Each document includes an explanation and instruction section.
If you do not have an end-of-life directive in place, do your loved ones a favor and complete one now. Having an end-of-life directive will help your loved ones deal with a difficult situation a little more easily.