Your Healthcare, Your Way: Living Wills and Health Care Proxies Explained

The Chamberlain Law Firm

Life throws curveballs, and sometimes medical decisions arise when you can not speak for yourself. A living will and health care proxy prepare for that type of situation. Living wills express your wishes on life-sustaining treatments, while a health care proxy appoints a trusted person to make medical choices if you’re unable. These documents give you peace of mind and assurance that your voice is heard in the event that you’re incapacitated. The estate planning attorneys at The Chamberlain Law Firm are here to help you decide when you should consider a living will and health care proxy.

Living Wills: Your Voice in Healthcare Decisions

A living will, also known as an advance directive, helps you tell your doctors how you want to be treated in the event you are not competent or able to communicate your medical desires. A living will is a legal document where you, as a competent adult, clearly state your wishes for future medical care, especially regarding life-sustaining treatments. This ensures your voice is heard, even if you’re unable to speak for yourself. Living wills aren’t just for older aged people – accidents and illnesses can happen anytime, making them crucial for all adults. 

Living wills are also great because they ease the burden on loved ones by sparing them from difficult decisions during a stressful time. Think of it as advance care planning – taking control and ensuring the care you want. While a living will still uses the term “will”, it is important to remember that a living will only focuses on medical care and not the administration of your estate after your pass away. 

Who Makes the Decisions? Introducing Health Care Proxies

Imagine a situation where you can’t make medical decisions for yourself. A health care proxy steps in! It’s a legal document appointing a trusted person (your “agent”) to make healthcare choices if you lose decision-making capacity. This means they can’t understand the details of your medical situation. Your agent can have broad authority over all your medical care or act according to specific instructions you provide. Their power kicks in when a doctor confirms you can’t make decisions anymore. Think of it as a safety net – your voice is still heard, even when you can’t speak for yourself. A health care proxy typically lasts indefinitely, but you can set an end date or conditions for its termination. Witnesses are required when signing, and you can absolutely have both a living will and a health care proxy for ultimate peace of mind. 

New York Law: Your Living Will Matters

While there is no New York law specifically allowing Living Wills, it still may be in your best interest to include one in your estate plan. There are many reasons to execute a living will, including:

  • Your Voice Still Counts: A living will expresses your wishes for end-of-life care, ensuring your voice is heard even when you can’t speak for yourself.
  • Strengthens Your Health Care Proxy: Even with a living will, a health care proxy is crucial. It appoints someone to make decisions if you can’t. Your doctor will consult this person alongside your living will.
  • Common Law Supports You: New York upholds the right of self-determination, meaning you have the right to accept or decline medical treatment, with some exceptions. This principle supports living wills so long as they’re clear and convincing.

In essence, a well-crafted living will can significantly influence your medical care in New York, even without a specific authorizing statute.

Crafting Your Living Will

Now that you have an introduction to living wills and health care proxies, it is important to discuss how these documents are created. If you are considering these estate planning documents, you should start by::

  1. Gathering Your Thoughts: Reflect on what matters most to you at the end of life. What kind of care do you want, or not want?
  2. Talk to Your Doctor: Discuss your wishes with your doctor. They can explain medical treatments and answer your questions.
  3. Speak With Counsel: While not required, it is always advisable to speak with a licensed attorney before the execution of any estate planning documents. 

Here are some common areas you might want to address in your living will:

  • Artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding)
  • Cardiac resuscitation (CPR)
  • Mechanical respiration (ventilator)
  • Pain medication

You can also include specific wishes about:

  • Organ and tissue donation
  • Donating your body to science
  • Palliative or comfort care

Remember that the more specific the instructions in your living will are, the clearer your wishes are conveyed to your loved ones. Make sure to update your living will periodically to ensure any life or medical changes are accounted for. 

Changing Your Mind? Updating or Revoking Your Living Will

Life changes, and so can your wishes. The good news is that you have flexibility when it comes to your living will and health care proxies. Here’s how to modify or revoke it:

  • Create a New Living Will: This is the simplest way. In the event you have serious changes, it is best to draft a new document outlining your updated wishes and be sure to provide it to your health care proxy.
  • Written or Oral Revocation: Inform your doctor and health care proxy in writing or verbally that you’re revoking your previous living will.
  • Physical Destruction: Shred, burn, or otherwise physically destroy your existing living will. This action, along with your intent to revoke, is sufficient.

Conclusion: Taking Control of Your Healthcare Future

Living wills and health care proxies are powerful tools that empower you to make informed decisions about your future medical care. A living will lets your voice be heard regarding end-of-life care. A health care proxy appoints a trusted person to make choices if you are are incapacitated. By creating these documents and keeping them up-to-date, you ensure your healthcare aligns with your values and preferences. Remember, it’s about taking control and ensuring you receive the care you want, even when you can’t speak for yourself.

Contact The Chamberlain Law Firm to speak with experienced estate planning attorneys, call us today at (201) 273-9763 for a consultation. For more estate planning advice, be sure to check out our Insight Articles.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. In the event you would like to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your case, please contact The Chamberlain Law Firm.

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