Updated: Apr 13
Planning for the future is easy when you are imagining children in college, sitting on a beach in retirement, or saving up for a first home. Planning for the future when it involves life and death medical decisions is often a little harder, but making those plans is no less important. We need to plan ahead for the possibility that we will become sick and unable to make our own medical decisions. Medical science has created many miracles, among them the technology to keep patients alive longer, sometimes indefinitely. We also need to plan ahead for the possibility that we will become sick and unable to make our own medical decisions. This is why we think that it may be some of the most essential forward-thinking decision making you will ever do. The most important medical planning document you need to prepare under Georgia law is the Advance Healthcare Directive. The State of Georgia has developed a form Advance Healthcare Directive that is a number of documents in one: a Healthcare Power of Attorney; Advance Directive; Living Will; and Guardian nomination form. The Georgia form Advance Healthcare Directive combines the old Georgia Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare into one comprehensive medical planning document. What is an Advance Healthcare Directive? An Advance Healthcare Directive is completed so that you can give detailed instructions regarding the kind of care you would like to receive should you become terminally ill or are in a permanently unconscious state. These instructions fall under the general category of "end-of-life care decision making." An Advance Healthcare Directive provides a healthcare agent with instructions on what type of care you would like. It may contain directions to refuse or remove life support in the event you are in a coma or a vegetative state, or it may provide instructions to use all efforts to keep you alive, no matter what the circumstances. Medical directives can also be broader statements granting general authority for all medical decisions that are important to you. These broader medical directives give the agent guidance in less serious situations. The Georgia form Advance Healthcare Directive limits its use under the following circumstances, unless the principal specifically authorizes its use at other times: A terminal condition, which means having an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in death in a relatively short period of time; or A state of permanent unconsciousness, which means an incurable or irreversible condition where you are not aware of yourself or the environment and show no behavioral response to your environment. Your condition will be determined in writing after personal examination by an attending physician and a second physician in accordance with currently accepted medical standards. As a general rule, the Georgia form Advance Healthcare Directive takes effect only when you require medical treatment and a physician determines that you are unable to communicate your wishes concerning treatment. If you are able to express your own wishes, you will be listened to and the Advance Healthcare Directive will have no effect. What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy? If you become incapacitated, it is important that someone have the legal authority to communicate that your wishes concerning medical treatment. A Healthcare Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent, but for medical, as opposed to financial, decisions. You execute a document giving another person (the agent) the authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to communicate such decisions. By completing the health care power of attorney/proxy portion of the Advance Healthcare Directive, you ensure that the instructions that you give your agent will be carried out. It is especially important to name a healthcare agent if you and family members may disagree about treatment. It is also especially important to name a healthcare agent so that your family members and loved ones are not burdened by the need to make end-of-life decisions without any guidance from you. Who To Choose as your Healthcare Agent? Since the agent will have the authority to make medical decisions in the event you are unable to make such decisions for yourself, the agent should be a family member or friend that you trust to follow your instructions. You should talk to the person whom you want to name as the agent about your wishes concerning medical decisions, especially life-sustaining treatment. Those interested in drawing up a healthcare document should contact an attorney who is skilled and experienced in estate planning and/or elder law matters. Many hospitals and nursing homes also provide forms, as do some public agencies. Do I Need a HIPAA Release Too? The short answer is yes. It is crucial that everyone specifically name those persons who are entitled to access to health care information about them. Under the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which became effective in April 2003, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers may no longer freely discuss a patient’s status or health with spouses or other family members — unless the providers have in hand signed consent forms from the patient. Remember: a general power of attorney for financial matters will not suffice. The instrument must refer specifically to HIPAA. Even if you nominate someone to be your healthcare agent, an accompanying HIPAA release will ensure that your healthcare agent is fully informed when making decisions on your behalf.
Important Points to Remember About Advance Healthcare Directives
You must be a fully competent adult to complete an Advance Healthcare Directive.
These documents are only in effect if you are not able to express your own thoughts and wishes about treatment issues.
Advance Healthcare Directives only cover healthcare decisions and have nothing to do with your financial affairs.
You can change your mind at any time, by completing a new form, or telling someone that you have different wishes.
You do not need a lawyer to complete the forms and they do not have to be notarized, but if you have any questions or concerns regarding the legal implications of your
Advance Healthcare Directive you should seek the advice and counsel of an attorney well-versed in estate planning and/or elder law matters.
You will need two competent adults to witness these forms and the witnesses can not be members of your family. Hospital employees can act as one of your witnesses but the other must be an objective third party.
The Sullivan Law Firm in Savannah, Georgia a call today so that we can get started with helping you with all of your planning needs, including guiding you in making long-term healthcare decisions. Protect Loved ones and Assets Now -- Have a P.L.A.N.(tm)