11 May 2016
What is A Living Will and Why Do You Need One?

We all live in fear of that middle-of the night phone call or knock on the door telling us that a loved one has been injured or is hospitalized. The dreaded hospital room conversation with the doctor – what should we do?  What would Mom/Dad/Sis want us to do?  But why wait for an emergency to have these conversations and make these decisions?

Perhaps we would all sleep better at night if we knew we were already prepared in case of the worst-case scenario: important matters had already been discussed among family members; decisions made; and documents drawn. Experts like Attorney Laura L. Fritz, co-owner of the law firm of Andrew S. T. Fritz, Ltd. in Las Vegas, counsels her clients to be prepared with a Medical Power of Attorney.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney? In some states it is referred to as a Living Will or a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, or a Healthcare Directive, or a Healthcare Proxy, or an Advanced Directive. The Nevada Revised Statutes call it a Medical Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Whatever the name, the goal is the same – to communicate end-of-life wishes concerning medical care.

Fritz explains that with a Medical Power of Attorney, you and your family can be assured that final wishes about healthcare will be followed in a calm and measured manner, no matter what the circumstances. “You get to determine your healthcare decisions instead of making your loved ones do it, so it takes the stress out of the situation,” she points out. “You can decide what treatment is given or direct what is withheld. And this directive gives guidance so that decision-making by your family or medical professionals is made easier. No one has to second-guess, and the fact that a decision has already been made can often prevent family discord.”

Once you have decided on your medical directive, whether your attorney has drafted a formal document or you have written it yourself, it is your duty to provide the document to your family, your medical providers, and any healthcare facilities in order to ensure that your directive is followed. Sometimes there is a box to check on a healthcare questionnaire when you visit the doctor or are admitted to a hospital as to whether or not you have an advanced directive in place.

What do you do if you have no immediate family nearby? Here in Nevada, many residents are transplants from other areas or have moved here recently, and may not have close family or friends nearby who would have access to their medical directives. Attorney Fritz usually retains a copy for her clients, and assists with ensuring that the directive is provided to medical personnel or a facility in the case of an emergency.

Another option is the Nevada Living Will Lockbox. This is a free service provided by the state government whereby residents can deposit medical directive documents, such as a Living Will or a Medical Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Fritz explains that the Lockbox provides additional protection in case you have drafted your own documents and do not have an attorney holding them for you. The Lockbox is also useful in cases where documents are misplaced or lost, family members are estranged, or there is no family nearby. The Lockbox helps with sudden emergencies, since medical providers in Nevada have procedures in place to get instant access to the Lockbox contents.

Attorney Fritz recommends that you have your attorney draft all of your estate documents together, including a will, trusts if applicable, and a regular durable power of attorney that can be used for financial transactions in case of disability. Neither the Medical Power of Attorney nor a Durable Power of Attorney will survive death, reminds Fritz, so it is essential to have a will to ensure that your estate plans are carried out.

And the importance of having that Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney for Healthcare? As Attorney Laura Fritz reiterates, “It will give everyone comfort – the medical personnel appreciate the directive and your loved ones are given guidance with difficult decisions at a stressful time. But most of all, you have given yourself the greatest gift – the ability to communicate your wishes when you are no longer able to speak for yourself.”

 

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.

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