Reasons You Need and Advance Directive for Health Care

I recently found myself completing my own Advance Directive for Health Care. This is not a new activity for me, but it did cause me to reflect. I first completed my Advance Directive 11 years ago when I first started working for an elder law attorney and estate planning was one of the perks of the job. I was young and single and spent way more time deciding how to divide my assets in my new Will than contemplating the consequences of my health care decisions.

A couple years later I got married and updated my estate planning documents. My Will became a little easier. My health care directive a little more complicated. I have very strong feeling about my end of life health care and my new wife did not feel the same way. I kept my mom and closest sibling as my health care agents without really giving any thought to how their views may affect my care.

Around the time our first child was born, after watching some friends with very tough pregnancies and deliveries, we decided my wife was the best person to be my health care agent. I updated my Advance Directive yet again. Then I realized my mom and closest sibling don’t really share my beliefs about health care in general, so probably should not be my successor agents. Last year I called my sister-in-law to discuss my thoughts about my health care and measure her comfort with being my successor health care agent. She agreed, so time for another update.

My most recently signed Advance Directive was not a change to my agents. It actually was not a change at all. I just needed my wife to access my immunization records on my behalf and could not remember where I had safely tucked away my Advance Directive. I signed the Advance Directive, and she took it with her to the pharmacy who would only release immunization records in person over the counter.

Georgia’s Advance Directive for Health Care actually completes 5 different tasks. (1) I needed the one of the lesser known powers: my agent needed to access my HIPAA protected health records. (2) The document serves as a Health Care Power of Attorney in that it names my wife as my health care agent to make medical decisions for me if the event I am unable. (3) The Living Will section allows me to tell my agents what my treatment preferences are. The agent is supposed to use this advice to make the best decisions for me in the event I am unable to direct my own care. (4) There is a question that asks whether you wish to be buried or cremated. If you initial cremated, then the Advance Directive serves as a cremation release ensuring that only your health care agent will have to sign off for your cremation after your death. (5) The final provision is a Designation of Guardian. I was able to request that if a Guardianship proceeding is ever filed for me, the court should appoint my chosen agent as my Guardian.

Some states actually require 5 different documents to accomplish these 5 different tasks. I personally like that Georgia includes them all in this one form. When I complete Advance Directives with clients who are struggling with some of these decisions, I remind them that they don’t have to complete all the sections. You can choose to complete as much or as little of your Advance Directive as you want. The only power that cannot be separated is that if you name a Health Care Agent, then that person, by law, can access your HIPAA protected health information.