Understanding the Importance of Health Care Directives

health care directive

Minnesota Health Care Directive Lawyers

As part of your overall estate planning, one document which should be considered is a health care directive. Unfortunately, there is a lot of erroneous information about these directives which often prevent people from putting one in place. Health care directives are important and should be part of your plan, so it is important to understand their purpose.

Why Health Care Directives Matter

While most of us do not like to think about worst-case scenarios, there is always a potential for a life-threatening injury after an accident. Some of us may develop a chronic illness that is diagnosed as fatal. In both these instances, it may be impossible for us to communicate our wishes for our medical care to family, friends, and medical care teams. This is why having a health care directive matters so much.

Myths About Health Care Directives

A primary reason many who are preparing an estate plan avoid health care directives is because of some of the myths surrounding their use. Here’s some truths disputing the myths which you should know about health care directives:

  • They cannot be altered — health care directives are not final until they are enforceable. Any time you wish to change your directive, you may do so. Changes include who is making decisions, what level of care you prefer, and any other changes you wish to make. Until you are unable to speak for yourself, your healthcare directive may be changed.
  • Palliative care is not given — one concern people have about a directive is if they are not being given treatment for a fatal illness they will not get pain relief or other treatment. This is false, your physician or medical team will continue to ensure you are receiving pain relief, food and water, and other necessary care including spiritual and emotional.
  • Young people have no need of a directive — this is not true. In fact, it could be more important for a younger person to have a directive on file because it is possible they could live in a vegetative state for decades if they are stricken with a serious illness or severely injured in an accident.
  • Directives mean I lose control of healthcare decisions — this is one of the biggest myths about healthcare directives. A person is always in control of their decisions about their healthcare decisions if they can communicate with their medical team. Having a directive on file does not diminish your ability to make decisions about your ongoing care.

Directives Protect You and Your Family

One of the best reasons to have a healthcare directive in place is to help your family. Chances are if you are injured or ill and cannot speak for yourself, your family members will have to make decisions about your ongoing care. This is very difficult to do, particularly when you have not expressed any specific instructions or made your wishes known to loved ones. Having to make such decisions, particularly when family members cannot agree can rip your family apart.  Additionally, your family members do not automatically have legal authority to make decisions on your behalf and a legal process called a guardianship may be needed to appoint someone to make your decisions.  This process is public, time consuming, and expensive.  A properly signed healthcare directive can avoid the need for a guardianship by privately naming someone qualified to make your health care-related decisions.

Part of Overall Estate Planning

A healthcare directive should be a part of your estate plan just like a trust, will, or  power of attorney. What is important is to make sure you have one in place in case it becomes necessary. You should review your healthcare instructions regularly, particularly if you wish to designate a different person to manage your care, or if you wish to change the instructions to your family or medical team.

When starting the estate planning process, it is important to understand you should be prepared to review the plan regularly. Life events such as a birth, death or divorce, a change in your wealth or health should signal it is time to review your plan. Remember, the right estate plan can help protect you and your family. If you are considering your estate plan, contact Hero, Jorstad & Jacobsen Law Firm, P.A. for help. We provide high-quality, custom estate plans for individuals in Northfield, Kenyon and Wanamingo and throughout Minnesota.