While financial arrangements are a major part of putting together an estate plan, it is also important to consider your wishes regarding future health care decisions.
If you become physically or mentally incapacitated, you may not be able to communicate these wishes to care providers or your loved ones. Advance directives are documents that allow you to give instructions about your medical preferences.
What are advance directives for health care?
An advance directive is a document that explains what kind of medical care and treatment you want if you become too ill or incapacitated to communicate your wishes. Doing so alleviates the burden placed on loved ones to make important and sometimes hard decisions, and ensures that your wishes are carried out.
There are typically four kinds of advance directives that are commonly used:
- Do-not-resuscitate and practitioner orders for life-sustaining treatment: documenting whether you wish to receive CPR and other types of life-prolonging procedures
- A declaration of preferences for mental health treatment: explaining what types of psychiatric care you wish or do not wish to receive
- A health care power of attorney: authorizing a trusted agent to make decisions for you based on your instructions and personal values
- A living will: giving specific directions about your preferences for end-of-life care if your condition is terminal and treatment would only prolong your death
As of June 30, 2007, all advance directives have been replaced by the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care. This form allows you to designate the following:
- Health care agent – which person will make your health care decisions if you are unable to do so
- Treatment preferences – whether or not you want life-saving treatment to be performed, withdrawn or withheld
- Guardianship – which person will be legally responsible for your personal affairs if you are unable to make decisions regarding your personal welfare
Individuals can complete the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care on their own, but you may want to consider consulting with an estate planning attorney to ensure it is compatible with all your future planning.
Are advance directives legally required?
You may choose to complete an advance directive or not. However, if you have no advance directive, the court may select a health care surrogate to make medical choices on your behalf.
If you have multiple types of advance directives that were completed prior to June 30, 2007, it is important to make sure that they stay up-to-date and consistent with your preferences. It is also a good idea to discuss your directive choices with both your health care provider and your loved ones.