Living Wills

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Living Will: The common name for legal document in which individuals instruct health-care providers about their wishes with respect to medical procedures should they become incapacitated.

Federal law ensures that patients admitted to hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, HMOs, and hospices be informed of their rights under state law to prepare these advance health care directives and to have the documents entered into their medical record.

It is highly recommended that individuals discuss their wishes with their family and loved ones, who are expected to assist in the implementation of a Living Will before medical treatment is necessary.

Everyone over the age of 18 should have a Living Will, Proxy and Advance Directive for Health Care so their loved ones are able to address their medical needs should they not be able to communicate with their physicians.

Glossary of Living Will terms:

Advance Directives for Health Care: These directives pertain to treatment preferences and the designation of a surrogate decision-maker in the event that a person should become unable to make medical decisions on his or her own behalf. Advance directives generally fall into three categories: living will, power of attorney and health care proxy.

Health Care Proxy: A written legal document in which a person designates another person to make health care decisions if he or she cannot make their wishes known. The health care proxy has, in essence, the same rights to request or refuse treatment that the individual would have if capable of making and communicating decisions.

HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This is a Federal law which gives patients greater access to their own medical records and more control over how their personally identifiable health information is used. The law addresses the obligations of healthcare providers and health plans to protect health information and includes a privacy rule creating national standards to protect personal health information. Unless your Living Will, Proxy and/or Advance Directive for Health Care specifically authorizes your Agent to have access to your medical records, medical officials may refuse to provide him/her with information necessary to make health care decisions for you.

Living Will: A written legal document that specifies what types of medical treatment a person desires. More specific living wills may include information regarding an individual's desire for such services such as analgesia (pain relief), antibiotics, hydration, feeding, and the use of ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Medical Power of Attorney: A written legal document providing authority to others in the case of an incapacitating medical condition.

Proxy: A person authorized to act for another person.