If you become too ill to speak for yourself, advance directives can tell what kind of medical decisions you would prefer and even appoint someone to speak and act on your behalf. Advance directives let you make decisions now for how you would like to be treated in the future.
In Illinois, you may make four types of advance directives: a health care power of attorney, a living will, a mental health treatment preference declaration, and a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). While preparing your advance directives, you may want to discuss your choices with your family, your health care professional, and your attorney. We have included information on the four types of directives below to help you decide which directives you may need.
Health Care Power of Attorney
If you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, a Health Care Power of Attorney gives you the power to appoint someone to make those decisions on your behalf. Your appointee is called your “agent,” and you may name a backup agents in case the primary agent cannot or will not fulfill their role. You cannot choose your health care professional or provider as your agent, and your agent cannot act as your witness on your Health Care Power of Attorney. The Health Care Power of Attorney can be in effect until your death or recovery from a disability depending on your choice; if you wish to change or update this directive, you must do so in writing.
You may leave specific instructions regarding your health care preferences for your agent. These instructions may include the types of treatments that you do and do not want to receive. You may have religious or other personal views on treatment paths that you want your agent to uphold. Our attorneys can guide you while making these considerations with a compassionate mindset toward your values. We always wish to ensure that our clients’ values are reflected in their advance directives.
In the event that you are in a terminal condition and are unable to make decisions, a Living Will takes effect. This tells your health care professional whether you want death-delaying procedures. Regardless of the living will, food and water cannot be withdrawn if it would be the only cause of death, and special considerations will be taken if you are pregnant. If you have both a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will, the agent will make the health care related decisions unless they are unable to do so.
Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration
This directive states whether you would like to receive certain treatments for mental illness or be admitted to a mental health facility when you are not able to make decisions for yourself. Just like the previous advance directives, you are able to leave specific instructions for your care. Like the Health Care Power of Attorney, you are able to appoint someone to act on your behalf as your “attorney-in-fact.” Your attorney-in-fact must accept their appointment in writing before they can begin making mental health care decisions for you; they must also follow your desires in this directive, unless an emergency threatens your life or a court orders otherwise.
This particular directive expires in three years; although, you may cancel this directive in writing if you are not receiving mental health treatment at the time of cancellation. The declaration will also be extended until the end of treatment, if the expiration date occurs during mental health treatment.
Do-Not-Resuscitate/Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment
The final type of Advance Directive in Illinois includes both a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order and the Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). If you choose to include a DNR in your estate planning documents, the orders state that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) cannot be used if your heart and/or breathing ceases. Likewise, the POLST Order can also be used to set instructions for life-sustaining treatment.
If your DNR/POLST Orders meet certain requirements, it can be entered into your medical records. These requirements include your signature or that of your authorized legal representative, as well as signatures from one witness and your attending practitioner.
After you have decided which advance directives you would like to have in place and have created your documents, you will want to store these documents in several places. First, you will want to keep your original copy in your personal records. Next, you should give copies to your family members, especially if you are naming them as your Health Care Power of Attorney. You will also need to give copies to your health care professional(s), who will add this to your personal file. Finally, you should also give a copy to your estate-planning attorney for safekeeping.
Taking the time to plan ahead and put advance directives in place can spare your loved ones from stressful situations. If you do not have any advance directives in place, a health care “surrogate” would be chosen for you, and they would have to guess what your wishes would be. By placing your values in writing in these directives, you’re leaving specific instructions to help your agent make decisions in the event that you are not able—your family would not have to worry about whether the decisions they are making would honor your wishes.
Estate planning and setting advance directives in place can be a daunting task for you right now, but it will help put your loved ones at ease in the future. All of these decisions take careful consideration. You should consider talking to your family, your health care professional, your attorney, and anyone you may name as your agent while making these decisions. Having a conversation with everyone involved will make it easier to follow your wishes in the future.
Our office staff will always lend a compassionate ear during your planning process to help ensure that your wishes are communicated. If you are interested in creating Advance Directives or starting your Estate Plan, contact our office today.
The content of this article is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.
Article written by Richard W. Warner