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Overview of advanced directives

What are they and do I need them?

Illinois law allows you to make three types of Advance Directives: a Power of Attorney for Health Care, a Living Will and a Mental Health Treatment Declaration. You can also make a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). These orders are often referred to as another type of advance directive.

The purpose of an advance directive is for you to make decisions about your future health care. Through one, or a combination of advance directives, you can inform your doctor and your loved ones of what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions. Knowing your wishes can relieve a heavy burden for family members and ensure that doctors devise a treatment plan that respects those wishes. In addition, executing one or more advance directives can also avoid the need for a court to appoint a health care surrogate to make decisions on your behalf. A health care surrogate appointed by the court may not be the person you would have chosen to act on your behalf and he or she will be subject to certain limitations under the law. Every person should have at least one advance directive.

The Health Care Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to choose someone to act in your place and on your behalf (your “agent”) when you are either temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Everyone should at least execute a power of attorney. As long as you are able to make decisions for yourself, you will be able to do so. You can give your agent instructions regarding care you want provided or withheld. How specific your instructions are or how broad the agent’s power to make decisions on your behalf is up to you. This is an important matter to discuss with an attorney that can give you guidance in the areas of broad versus restrictive powers.

The Living Will is a brief document that tells your doctor or health care professional whether and what type of life sustaining procedures you want used if you have a terminal condition. This document complements the healthcare power of attorney. It should specify whether your instructions in the Living Will override the agent’s instructions under the power of attorney. Again, this is an important matter to discuss and consider with an attorney who can provide guidance.

Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration is a legal document that allows you to identify whether you want to receive certain treatments or medications when you have a mental illness and whether you wish to be admitted to a mental health facility for treatment. You will be able to appoint someone to make your mental health decisions for you (your “attorney-in-fact”). Whether to execute this document and how specific or restrictive to make it depends on your circumstances and should be discussed and considered with an experienced attorney.

The Do-Not-Resuscitate/Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment is an advanced directive that tells doctors you do not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart or breathing stops. You can also identify your wishes concerning life-sustaining treatment. Although this document is often executed in a situation where death is foreseeable or imminent, it can and should be given consideration at the same time you are preparing other advance directives.

Kim Wisneski

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