A health care directive is a state-specific legal document that allows you to name a trusted family member, friend, or loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are ever incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. In Minnesota, this document has taken the place of living wills, durable powers of attorney for health care, and health care powers of attorney.
A typical health care directive in Minnesota will accomplish three goals:
- Naming your health care agent: This section will simply name the person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Naming a succession of people to serve is often helpful if the first person you name is unavailable.
- Outlining specific treatment and care instructions: This section will allow you to explain your preferences on difficult end-of-life care options. Additionally, having a meeting with the people you designated in the first section of the health care directive can be helpful in making sure your wishes are known and carried out.
- Signing a HIPAA waiver: This form will grant your health care agent access to your medical records.
Why Are Health Care Directives Important?
A health care directive is an important legal document to have in place because it accomplishes two tasks in the event of a medical emergency that causes your incapacitation.
These tasks are as follows:
- It documents your medical wishes and outlines the forms of treatment you would like made on your behalf.
It helps your loved ones avoid a stressful and expensive court proceeding to grant them the ability to make decisions for you during incapacity.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a Health Care Directive?
If you don’t create a health care directive and become incapacitated, family members or friends who wish to help must need to undergo a costly and often stressful guardianship proceeding. If they are successful, they will gain the legal right to make medical decisions on your behalf.
This means that the court – not you – will ultimately determine who is best suited to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. It also means that once this person is named as your guardian, they won’t have any documentation about your preferences to guide their decision-making.
Your loved ones may disagree over who is best suited to act as your guardian or argue over the type of care you should receive. Pivotal decisions such as whether or not you should be taken off life support are left to your loved ones who may not agree and who don’t know your wishes.
The court’s involvement in a guardianship doesn’t end once your loved one is named your guardian. Instead, the guardianship will be an ongoing process in which your court-determined caretaker will need to report back to the court until you regain consciousness or pass away.
Who Should I Choose As My Health Care Agent?
Ideally, you want to select someone close to you who you trust to carry out your wishes under difficult circumstances. The person, or people, you name must be at least 18 years old. Attorney Matt Guttman recommends naming multiple agents in the event your first choice is unable to serve as your agent when they’re called upon. However, it is generally not advisable to name joint agents, as they may disagree with one another which can cause unnecessary issues down the line.
The person you name as your health care agent has a duty to act in your best interest and must behave in accordance with the instructions you leave in your health care directive. If the agent is faced with a situation that falls outside of the scope of information provided by your documents, they must act in your best interest with respect to your health, prognosis, and known values and ethics.
If you feel unsure who in your life would be best suited to hold this role, it can be helpful to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you evaluate your loved ones with respect to your needs and goals.
Do I Need a Health Care Directive?
Most likely! In fact, every Minnesotan over the age of 18 should have a health care directive. It is one of a few foundational estate planning documents that all legal adults should have in place, regardless of their net worth, assets, or family structure.
Health Care Documents are State-Specific
As previously mentioned, Health Care Directives were formerly known as living wills, durable powers of attorney for health care, and health care powers of attorney. In some states, these documents are still the current standard. If you move to a new state, it is a good idea to contact a local estate planning attorney to review your health care documents to ensure your wishes will be carried out no matter where you reside.
So, What Is a Health Care Directive & Do I Need One?
A health care directive is a crucial estate planning tool that can help to ensure your wishes are carried out and can help your loved ones avoid wasting their time and money on a costly guardianship proceeding if you are ever incapacitated.
Schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with a Guttman Law attorney to learn more about health care directives and other estate planning tools you may benefit from.