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Care planning: health care directives

Last post, we discussed one of the two main types of advanced directives here in Washington, health-care-related durable powers of attorney. Today, we will talk about the other, health care directives. Health care directives are sometimes referred to as living wills

Health care directives can address certain situations involving terminal conditions. When a person has a terminal condition, many big questions can arise regarding their end-of-life care.

People can have very strong preferences as to what they want to have happen regarding their end-of-life care. Unfortunately, sometimes, when a person who has a terminal condition is at a point where end-of-life care questions come directly into play, they no longer have the capacity to make decisions when it comes to medical matters.

Health care directives are aimed at addressing this problem. These legal documents allow individuals to state, in advance, what their preferences would be regarding their end-of-life care if an end-of-life care situation were to arise in relation to a terminal condition while they lacked the capacity to make/express medical decisions. In such documents, preferences can be expressed regarding all manner of different aspects of a person's end-of-life care, including whether they would want their life artificially prolonged and whether they would want to be artificially provided hydration and nutrition.

Here in Washington, there are a variety of requirements a health care directive needs to satisfy in order to be considered valid, including a signature requirement and a witness requirement. If such requirements are not satisfied, it may result in the directive not being able to be used. Experienced elder law attorneys can guide individuals who want to set up a health care directive through the various requirements for putting a valid health care directive in place.

Source: Washington State Medical Association, "Advance Directives," Accessed Dec. 17, 2014

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