Health Care POAs and Advance Medical Directives in Virginia: What You Should Know

Sometimes it can be tough to think about finding yourself in a vulnerable position regarding your health and care. We want to be in control of our own health decisions. However, it happens to every one of us. Although we often associate health issues with age, they can occur at any time. Many of us know which decisions we would make regarding our healthcare, but should we become incapacitated, and therefore incapable of making those decisions, it is important to have the proper legal documents in place in order to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Additionally, by having these medical directives in place, you give your loved ones a tremendous gift as they will know that they are following your wishes and not having to guess what you wanted. This is true peace of mind at one of the most difficult times of a person’s life. I speak from experience here both personally and professionally.

In order to properly establish your wishes, you will want to create a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care as well as a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive (AMD). The Durable Power of Attorney helps by naming an individual (or several individuals) who you trust to serve as your Agent when it comes to issues related to your healthcare should you become incapacitated by injury or illness. A Living Will/AMD helps to outline the medical treatment that you would like, or not, in an end of life medical situation. 

Durable Power of Attorney

The first part of setting up the Durable Power of Attorney for healthcare is to choose one or more trusted Agents. Under Virginia law, the Agent must be at least 18 years of age. Many people choose their spouse or partner, close friend, or a relative as their Agent. The individual whom you choose should be someone whom you can depend upon, who is trustworthy and organized. This individual should also be someone who can stand up to other family and friends who disagree with your requests and who can remain calm under pressure. You may choose someone who does not reside in Virginia, but he or she should be able to travel to the state should they need to. 

Living Will

In a Living Will you provide instructions to your healthcare Agent and any providers, such as your doctors and nurses, as to what type of treatments you want, or don’t want, at an appropriate time near the end of your life. A Living Will is not the same as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order that must be signed by a doctor. But the Living Will can be invaluable in a hospital setting on determining what course of treatment is appropriate. You can decide in advance that you want palliative or hospice care and be kept medicated, hydrated, and comfortable. Or you can express your intentions about aggressive treatments to extend life as appropriate.  

If you have a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive you are able to have your intentions known and followed even if you are unable to communicate with your medical team at that time. One of my Navy commanding officer’s called me, his attorney, his “mouthpiece.” A Living Will/AMD allows you to appoint your own trusted “mouthpiece” to speak for you if you are unable to do so and provide them the guidance on what they should tell your medical team.  As mentioned above, I have had a lot of experience in both my attorney and son roles with end of life care and I truly appreciated the relief in having these legal documents in place.

As noted, a Living Will/AMD is not the same as a DNR order. For some clients a DNR signed by their doctor after appropriate counseling is a critical part of their healthcare planning. A DNR can be honored by first responders whereas a Living Will/AMD cannot be used to prevent on scene treatment. Those documents are only legally effective in a care facility.

Reilly Law PLC is Your Peace of Mind Planning Partner 

In the window of our office we have a sign with a picture of an ambulance outside an emergency room. The caption is “This is NOT the time to learn you are NOT legally ready!” The same goes for your loved ones. When you — and they– are in the throes of a tough medical situation, it is not the time to be making decisions or have them trying to determine what you would want. In fact, there are times when you will be incapacitated or unable to make decisions. That’s why it is so important to be proactive, rather than reactive. You can make the decisions that you know you want, leaving nothing undetermined. Consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney can make all the difference. 

At Reilly Law PLC, Peace of Mind planning is all we do. We are compassionate to your needs and desires and will work to ensure that your wishes are clear and appropriately documented as you so choose. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!