Emergencies strike out of nowhere. If a person is so badly injured or sick that he or she cannot make medical decisions, an individual with a power of attorney can perform these duties. In Maryland, separate documents are required for healthcare and financial power of attorney. The former document for health care power of attorney is referred to as the “advance directive.”
No one likes to think about becoming physically or mentally incapacitated because of a medical emergency, but every one of us is vulnerable. It is best to have advance directives drawn up when a person is healthy, so there is not an additional emergency of scrambling to prepare such a document when an actual medical emergency occurs. If the patient is unconscious or otherwise uncommunicative, he or she cannot execute an advance directive.
Health Care Agent
In an advance directive, the person given the durable power of attorney is known as the “health care agent.” Give this serious responsibility to your most trusted relative or friend. Discuss this position with the person you want to designate – some people may not want or cannot handle the burden of making potentially life and death decisions. You should also designate an alternate health care agent in case your original choice is unable to serve in this capacity. Before writing your advance directive, you may want to sit down with family members and/or consult a religious advisor to let them know of your wishes. You may also want to ask your doctor for advice.
The designated health care agent receives the authority to make all decisions on your behalf, but your advance directive indicates what you do or do not want to be done. You decide when the health care agent has this authority. It may be as soon as you finish the document or when a doctor – or two – states you are incapacitated. The health care agent cannot revoke your advance directive.
Who Decides When No Advance Directive Exists
If you suffer a medical emergency and do not have an advance directive, under Maryland law the following – in order of precedence – can make decisions:
- Legal guardian
- Adult child
- Adult sibling
- Other relative or friend.
Preparing an Advance Directive
Forms for advance directives are available online and through various medical and legal agencies. While you can create an advance directive on your own, it is wise to consult an attorney to prepare the document. You want to ensure the document reflects your particular needs and beliefs. A lawyer will point out any issues the document may have or add information you neglected to include to protect your rights and possibly your life.
What to Include
You may know someone whose medical condition was hopeless but they were kept alive – and perhaps suffering – through extreme measures. If you thought, “I do not want to end up like that,” such information in the advance directive should ensure you do not. The advance directive should include whether or not you should receive the following procedures or care in event of an emergency:
- Resuscitation – if your heart stops beating, electric shock or CPR can try to restart it
- Life support – this includes breathing via a mechanical ventilator
- Tube feeding – feeding through a stomach tube or intravenously
- Medication – pain or other medication. The latter may include aggressive treatment for infections at patients near the end of life.
- Mental health services – should you become mentally incapacitated, you can include information about acceptable mental health services.
You can also become an organ donor by including this information in an advance directive.
An advance directive is only valid once you have signed and dated it in the presence of two witnesses – neither of whom may be named as the health care agent. The witnesses must sign the document. Maryland law does not require notarization, but if you want to notarize the advanced directive, the notary can serve as a witness. Once all parties have signed the advance directive, make copies. Give the original to your health care agent and copies to your doctor and lawyer. Electronic copies are acceptable.
Much like a last will and testament, you can change your advance directive at any time. The last signed and witnessed document is enforced.
Emergency Advance Directive
If you experience an emergency and do not have an advance directive, Maryland law allows you to create the document by talking with a doctor and having someone witness the conversation. As noted, you must remain mentally capable of making such a decision at the time.
Think of an advance directive as insurance. You hope you will never need it, but knowing there is such a document outlining your desires for emergency medical care gives you peace of mind.
If you are considering setting up a power of attorney and need assistance, consider reaching out to us today!
There aren't any comments yet.