Last updated on March 20th, 2019
One cornerstone of your estate plan is making sure you are prepared for a situation where you can’t communicate your healthcare wishes.
A Virginia advance medical directive clarifies your potential future medical decisions for your doctor and family.
This guide details the steps you must take to prepare for this important part of your estate plan.
Talk to Your Doctor
Before you sign any documents, make sure you inform yourself about your healthcare options in the event you are incapacitated. A good way to learn about your options is to talk things over with your personal physician.
There are a variety of medical treatment options for terminally ill and incapacitated patients. These options include the administration of drugs, diagnostic tests, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), respirators, dialysis, surgery, organ donation, and more.
When meeting with your doctor, discuss different circumstances in which you may need the options listed above. Another thing to take into consideration when speaking to your doctor is pain and comfort.
Depending on your wishes and beliefs, you’ll be able to pick and choose which options, if any, best suit you.
Talk to Your Family
It’s also important to discuss your medical wishes with your close family members. Surviving family members may be able provide you with reasonable perspectives and point of views that could ultimately change your original plan.
Consulting with your family also informs them of their powers and all relevant information they’d need to know. This dialogue helps erase any room for confusion if you become terminally ill or unable to communicate.
Creating a Living Will
A living will is a document in which you state whether or not you would like to be put on life support and be sustained by medical equipment if your life is in balance. With this written declaration, you can also state whether or not you would like doctors to administer artificial feeding and fluid as well.
In Virginia, your living will can only be valid if it’s written by an able and adept adult. You must also sign the document in front of two witnesses to confirm your wishes.
A living will works as a direct guide that doctors and family members must follow in these situations. If your usual doctors can’t meet your wishes, then your living will serves as a means to transfer you to another doctor that can honor them.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
A living will gives you the opportunity to communicate your healthcare wishes. In contrast, a healthcare power of attorney gives decision-making power over your healthcare to a trusted individual.
In general, powers of attorney are documents you sign that grant authority to another person to conduct legal or financial business for you.
Healthcare powers of attorney grant specific powers regarding medical decisions to your patient advocate. In this role, your advocate may make all necessary decisions for you and make sure you are receiving the proper treatment.
Receiving this authority gives your patient advocate the right to make healthcare decisions not named in your medical declaration, to present your declaration in court if need be, and to hire or fire physicians as well.
Your patient advocate may also have the right to control visitation and access your medical records.
Choosing Your Patient Advocate
There are a few things you should keep in mind when thinking about someone to play this very important role.
The person you choose should live nearby and be able to stay by your side during your hospital stay.
Balance of Age and Youth
Your patient advocate should be someone who is old enough to handle the responsibilities involved, but also young enough to survive you.
Having a strong mind in this role is extremely important. Although extended family members and friends may try to persuade them, you need to make sure they can stick to your last wishes.
When choosing this person, make sure you choose someone you trust and who you know has your best interest at heart. Barring any external circumstances, no one is exempt from being your patient advocate.
You should also know that your marriage status shouldn’t necessarily affect your healthcare power of attorney choices.
For example, if you’re married but you would like your mother to be the one making medical decisions for you, she can. In this case, you would simply name her as your patient advocate.
If you choose not to create a living will or a medical power of attorney, your spouse or kids will have rights to make medical decisions for you.
If you have neither, doctors will then reach out to relatives and friends to discern how to best fulfill your healthcare desires.
Virginia Advance Medical Directive
In Virginia, you have the option of combining your living will and your medical power of attorney into one document known as the Virginia Advance Medical Directive for Health Care.
A template similar to the form linked to above is actually provided by statute in Virginia Code § 54.1-2984.
With the Virginia Advance Medical Directive for Health Care form you can detail your wishes and also name someone to make sure doctors comply with your wishes.
Your personal Virginia advance medical directive can deviate from the form provided by statute. If you are working with an attorney, you can create a detailed healthcare plan and communicate your wishes in a custom Virginia advance medical directive.
After you’ve put your healthcare choices in writing you should inform your family about your wishes. Make copies and distribute them.
Make sure your patient advocate can find the original copy of your medical directive. Also, give out copies to close family members, your regular doctor and lawyer.
In addition to giving your doctor a copy of your Virginia advance medical directive, you may store a copy for free with the Virginia Advance Health Directive Registry.
A Virginia advance medical directive is an important part of a comprehensive Virginia estate plan. This document communicates your healthcare desires to your family and your healthcare provider if you are unable to do so.
Preparing this important document will prevent unnecessary tension for your loved ones during a difficult time. Discuss how you can plan for this circumstance with an estate planning attorney.