Living wills and medical powers of attorney are two common types of advance directives. With a living will, you inform your family members, friends and health care professionals about which medical procedures you want and do not want doctors to use to sustain your life. By contrast, with a medical power of attorney, you name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapable of making them for yourself.
Drafting advance directives can be a challenging process for anyone. After all, thinking about illness or incapacitation is not exactly fun. Unfortunately, the process does not end after you execute a living will or designate a medical POA. Rather, you must periodically review your advance directives to ensure they continue to comport with your wishes. Here are four situations when reviewing health care directives usually makes sense.
1. A new decade
If you stay in good physical health for years, you may forget what your advance directives say. Your wishes may also change as you age. Therefore, always review your living will and medical POA every time your age enters a new decade.
2. The death of a loved one
You may choose to designate a spouse, child, trusted relative, friend or someone else as your medical POA. If the person you choose dies or becomes incapacitated, he or she can no longer do the job.
3. A divorce or estrangement
Similarly, if you divorce or otherwise separate from your designated medical POA, he or she may no longer be able to serve effectively. Selecting a new agent is a good way to ensure health care professionals respect your wishes.
4. Deteriorating health
Advance directives can often seem more like a mental exercise than a plan for the future. That is, if you are in good health, you can only speculate about the medical complications you may eventually face. If doctors diagnose you with a serious condition, you likely have additional information that may cause your wishes to change substantially.
Having a living will and medical POA is an effective way to retain some control over your health care decisions, even if you become incapacitated. By occasionally reviewing your advance directives, you ensure they accurately reflect your wishes.