Advance Directives for Health Care

“Living Wills” and Health Care Proxies

Advance Directives for Health Care

Nobody likes to think about dying.  That’s why many people avoid planning for their end-of-life medical care even though they have strong feelings about what kind of care they want.

An Advance Directive, also called a “living will,” is a document you can use to describe ahead of time the kind of care you would or would not want in certain situations.

For example, you can use an advance directive to let your doctors and family know that you do or do not want to be put on a feeding tube if you ever become permanently unconscious.

When you use an advance directive to make your wishes clear, you can avoid disagreements between your loved ones, or between  your loved ones and your doctors.  Under Alabama law, nurses, doctors, and hospitals must follow your wishes as stated in your advance directive or transfer you to a facility that will follow your wishes.

I’m Young and Healthy – Why Do I Need an Advance Directive for Health Care?

Many people think that advance directives are only for the very sick or the very old, but that is absolutely not true.  While it’s true that older people are likely to have advance directives than younger people, any adult can benefit from the peace of mind offered by an advance directive for health care.  In fact, younger people may have more at stake because medical technology can keep them alive, but insentient, for decades.

Think of it this way:  if you are thirty years old and are catastrophically injured in a car accident today, how could you have a say about the kind of medical care you receive (or don’t receive) for your injuries?

If you have strong feelings about the circumstances under which you want life-sustaining treatment, then you should sign an advance directive, regardless of how old or how healthy you are.

Health Care Proxy

Advance directives can also be used to appoint a health care proxy – someone to enforce the decisions you’ve made.  You can – but do not have to – also give your proxy the power to make decisions for you about things you haven’t considered.

Appointing a proxy is another effective way to avoid disagreements about what kind of treatment you should receive.

What If You Don’t Have an Advance Directive?

If you become incapacitated and you do not have an advance directive, then Alabama law dictates who will make decisions for you. If you have a court-appointed guardian who has been given the specific power to make end-of-life decisions for you, then that guardian will serve as your health care “surrogate.”  If there is no such guardian, then the order of priority is:

  • your spouse,
  • your adult child,
  • your parent,
  • your adult sibling,
  • your next closest adult family member
  • If you have no adult family members, then a committee of doctors and staff at the health care facility where you are a patient will make decisions for you.

While you may be fine with anyone on this list choosing your end-of-life treatment for you, most people prefer to make such important decisions for themselves.  You likely would prefer not to leave the burden of these decisions on someone else, and you may also be concerned that they would choose differently than you would choose for yourself. Another reason to have an advance directive is that if there is a disagreement among the people listed above about who should be your surrogate, they could end up spending a lot of time and money in court arguing about who should be appointed. That expense, time, and stress is avoided if you make your wishes known ahead of time through an advance directive.

Make Your Healthcare Wishes Known

In short, an advance directive can give you the best possible chance of having your wishes carried out and can save your loved ones from the stress of being responsible for making end-of-life decisions for you.

An advance directive is an important part of any good estate plan, and everyone should strongly consider having one.

Can I Prepare My Own Advance Directive?

Alabama Advance Directive forms are readily available online.  However, most people like the security of having an attorney guide them through the process of signing an advance directive so that they can be confident it is completed correctly and accurately states their wishes.  The form can be confusing and overwhelming, but an attorney can explain your options to you and add any special provisions that are important to you.

Are you ready to get help with an Advance Directive?  Call Lewis, Lewis & Falkner today at 205-553-5353 to get started, or come by our office in Tuscaloosa and meet our attorneys.  We are eager to help you find the peace of mind that an Advance Directive provides.