Throughout our lifetimes, we make thousands of decisions. Some of those decisions are simple, day to day decisions while others are life-changing decisions. The important thing is that each of us is able to make those decisions when the time comes. There may come a time, however, where you are unable to make some of the most important decisions of your life – or death—because of your incapacity. By creating a living will, or an advance directive, you may still be able to make those decisions or decide who will make them for you.
Under the laws of the State of Missouri, you may create and execute either a living will or an advance directive. Understanding the difference between the two as well as what each accomplishes is important.
A living will is a more limited document that allows you to determine ahead of time if you want “death-prolonging procedures” to be withheld or withdrawn if you have a terminal condition. An advance directive may cover a more broad range of healthcare circumstances as well as allow you to provide instructions regarding your healthcare that exceed those allowed in a living will. For instance, unlike a living will, you may include directions regarding the withdrawal or cessation of artificially supplied nutrients or hydration in an advance directive. An advance directive also allows you the ability to provide more specific instructions that might include the amount of time you wish certain procedures to be given before they are stopped.
Another option that relates to end of life care, or healthcare decisions if you ever become incapacitated, is creating a durable healthcare power of attorney. This document allows you to appoint an agent who will be allowed to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself one day. In the absence of a durable power of attorney your loved ones could end up in a court battle over the right to make healthcare decisions for you.
By creating a living will, advance directive, and/or durable power of attorney, you have the ability to retain control over your future healthcare decisions in the event that you are someday unable to make those decisions down the road. Moreover, you can decide now who will be given the power to make decisions not covered in your living will or advance directive instead of leaving it to a court to decide. Keep in mind, however, that each of these documents requires very precise language in order to be considered valid. Talk to your estate planning attorney now about creating one or more of these documents before you find yourself in a situation where it is too late to control your own healthcare.