Now’s a Good Time to Review (or Prepare) Your Advance Directive
In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, the threat of death is in the news daily and literally permeates the air we breathe. In light of this, and for the sake of focusing on things that we ourselves can control, I wanted to spend some time discussing Advance Directives.
An Advance Directive (also called a living will or durable power of attorney for health care) is an important part of any estate plan. Now is a good time to take yours out and re-read it to make sure that it is still consistent with your wishes, or to prepare one if you haven’t done so already.
What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive outlines your wishes for medical treatment in the case that you are no longer able to make such decisions yourself. There are generally two parts – the first names someone to make decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able, and the second outlines which treatments you would wish to undergo should they become medically necessary. Typical procedures that would be addressed include CPR, respirator, feeding tube, and antibiotics, or under which circumstances you would decline to be resuscitated (a Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, order). This is also an opportunity to specify your wishes for organ donation and even funeral services.
How Do I Write an Advance Directive?
In Vermont, the process has been simplified and streamlined by the state. The Vermont Department of Health has a website where you can download sample forms, which must be witnessed by two adults who are not your siblings or descendants to go into effect. If you wish, you can send copies of your completed forms to the Vermont Advance Directive Registry, which is a free service available to every Vermonter.
What are the Benefits of Filing an Advance Directive?
In case of an emergency, time is critical. Hospitals and other health care providers have access to the Registry, so this ensures the greatest chance of your wishes being followed. The same is true if you name a health care agent who is empowered to make decisions on your behalf. If you have multiple children, for example, or no children, naming such a person in advance can significantly decrease any confusion and allow decisions about your care to be made more quickly. If the Advance Directive is not submitted to the Registry, your agent must bring an original copy to where you are before your wishes can be followed.
Vermont Department of Health: Advance Directives page
This site includes step-by-step instructions for creating and registering Advance Directives.
Sample long form Advance Directive (including nine sections; the short form includes only five): Vermont Advance Directive for Health Care
I hope that none of you reading this, or anyone you love, will need to use an Advance Directive in the near future, or otherwise before your time, but unfortunately each of us will eventually face death. While that fact may be completely outside our control, we do have the ability right now to make choices about our care and who will make decisions in our place, and this can provide some comfort in times of otherwise great distress.