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Burlington, VT office 802.540.0529
Hanover, NH office 603.643.6072
Rutland, VT office 802.773.3822
Woodstock, VT office 802.457.9492

September 2, 2009 Newsletter Archive

Planning for Life's Uncertainties

Do You Have Your Health Care Directive in Place?

When clients come in to discuss their estate plan, one of the most significant discussions we have with them surrounds their Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will, as it is called in New Hampshire, known in Vermont as an Advance Directive for Health Care. For purposes of this article we will refer to this document as a health care directive or simplyÊdirective. Although health care directives are probably one of the most important documents you will hopefully never need, even with much publicity and support among the medical and legal community, a recent statistic revealed that only 25% of people had executed such directives. Our mission is that nearly every person over the age of eighteen have a health care directive.

What is an advance directive?

The power of a health care directive is that it speaks when you cannot. It is your chance to control your wishes for health care treatment by using a legal document that must be honored. You are able to designate a health care agent, that is, another personÊyou choose now, while you are well, to make decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so. Along with your initial agent, you should name at least one, if not two, successor agents in case your initial agent is unable, unavailable or unwilling to act.

You should talk to your health care agent and successor agent to let them know that you are naming them. We assist our clients should they need more information about talking to their agents about rights and responsibilities.

A health care directive is employed when an individual is unable to speak for him or herself for whatever reason. Generally, in a health care directive, life sustaining treatment such as cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, blood or blood products, surgery, dialysis, antibiotics, chemotherapy, fluids and nutrition by feeding tube or IVÊare specifically discussed. Additionally the health care directive may include other specific directions such as organ donation, funeral instructions, values, duration of the document and a revocability clause.

Why should this be important to you?

As estate planning attorneys we think that it is as important for you to consider what matters to you during your lifetime as it is after your death, and we ask you several questions to reveal the heart of the matter. Questions we may ask include whether you value living a long life, an active life, andÊbeing surrounded by family and friends? What are your beliefs and values regarding your health care, about death and dying, and what would you do if you had an illness where you knew you would not recover no matter what measures were taken? We also take time to find out who your circles of support are because your health care agent should be someone you trust to be able to advocate for you when you are no longer able. We help you reflect about the people who are closest to you. Are they good candidates to be named as your agent? Would they have an easy or difficult time discussing your wishes with doctors, nurses and hospital administrators? Would they stand up for your rights when necessary? If the answer is yes, then this person would be a good health care agent. However, if you have doubts you may wish choose another individual who possesses more of the characteristics needed to carry out your wishes.

What happens if you do not have an advance directive?

You may be surprised to learn that even if you do not have an advance directive you still have a plan. That plan is that you leave every decision to the medical professional giving you care. Although you may feel that medical professionals should make all essential decisions regarding your care, there may be a crisis in your life, entirely unanticipated, in which you would have preferred certain treatment, or different strategies than the ones a medical professional chooses to employ. In some instances, if you do not have a health directive in place the court may have to appoint a guardian for you. A family member, friend or perhaps a stranger may step in during such a crisis and petition the court to become your guardian.

Planning now, while you are well, will afford you protections from decisions that you would not be inclined toward. A properly executed health care directive would guide the practitioner's decisions, and your agent should be assertive enough to fight for your interests. Without a health directive you are potentially left without an advocate in these matters.

Additional considerations

It is important that you follow-up with your medical practitioner regarding your health care directive. You may also want to implement a standing medical order that supplements your health care directive. In some states, these types of medical orders are legislated. However, in New Hampshire and Vermont there is no legislation and some doctors may find them a strange request, particularly coming from a lay person. Yet it is especially important to discuss your end of life treatment wishes with your doctor because he or she will learn more about you and you will learn more about your treatment options and considerations. If you are able to have your doctor create medical orders following your health care directive wishes, these orders serve as one more layer of protection that your own wishes during a crisis will be met.

Finally, once you have signed your health care directive you should keep the original in a safe location with your other important papers, and make sure that you give copies to your medical professional, your agent and successor agent. In Vermont you should register your directive in the statewide registry.

If you are like most of us, peace of mind is important to you. Executing a health care directive will offer you protections in the worst of circumstances. If you have further questions about health care directives please give us a call.

September Events

Daphne will be speaking about the differences between wills and trusts and about the probate process.

September 15
Thompson Senior Center, Woodstock, VT
1-2 PM

September 29
Royalton Senior Center, Royalton, VT
12-1 PM

For more information please call us at (603) 643-6072 or at (802) 457-9492

Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492


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