I hope I make a point here with you. April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). Why is it important?
NHDD is set aside each year to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of advance care planning. The NHDD was founded in 2008 to provide clear, concise, and consistent information on healthcare decision-making to both the public and providers though the widespread availability and dissemination of simple, free, and uniform materials and content to guide the process.
The timing of NHDD is remarkable. Today, with COVID-19 dominating our lives, advance directives should be at the forefront of our considerations.
What are advance directives? The key one is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. What does it do? In it you give someone the power to make health care decisions for you, only when you cannot make them yourself. That person (your health care agent) may look to the document for both power and guidance. Typically, we suggest you have a back-up for that person. Or maybe two.
In Kansas, we have a statutory form. It is a good starting point. It is certainly better than not having one at all. Why? Without one, and if you cannot communicate your wishes, someone is going to need to go to court and obtain a guardianship for you. Your spouse does not have automatic authority to act for you, unless you grant that authority in a Power of Attorney.
The second advance directive in Kansas is called a Declaration (but more commonly known as a “Living Will”). In it you, and only you, express your end-of-life treatment preferences. For example, if you were in a vegetative state and your physician would conclude that there is no realistic hope of recovery, would you want to receive artificial nutrition (tube feeding) to keep you alive as long as possible? Would you prefer comfort measures only rather than prolong the process of dying? You are in control of these decisions, but they must be in writing in the event you cannot express them yourself.
As an elder law attorney we deal with significant chronic illness and end of life, almost daily. I like being able to discuss these important documents, and modify them according to my client’s wishes.
What I don’t like is seeing a family struggle with the care of an incapacitated family member when they do not know what that person wants; nor do I enjoy directing a family to go to court so that they can make health care decisions.
When I was in charge of my grandmother’s care, I was lucky that she and I discussed her wishes regarding health care and end of life. When she was at the end, I, as her health care agent, knew exactly what she wanted. It was a true blessing she gave me.
So please, make it a priority to prepare and execute a health care power of attorney and a living will.
I do want to share with you that recently I contacted the Governor’s office and the office of the Secretary of State, seeking an executive order to allow notarizations of such documents by audio-visual means. On April 9, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 20-20, allowing notarization of documents using two-way audio-video communication technology.
Until April 26th, 2020, our office will make the statutory Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and the Declaration (Living Will) available to you for FREE. To receive the documents, please email your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also assist you in notarizing the documents.
You may also find the documents on line from Kansas Legal Services at www.kansaslegalservices.org.
Again, I urge you to contact an attorney versed in health care and end of life decision making.