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Everyone should consider an advance directive for health care

A will is a tool for planning the distribution of your property after your death and naming the proper person to take care of your property after you die.  However, there are two other documents which should be included in any proper estate plan.  One of those is a general business power of attorney which designates someone to make business decisions if you are incapacitated or unavailable.  The other is an advance directive for health care which, of course, deals with health care decisions that need to be made on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself.  These are distinguished from a will which only takes effect on your death.  An advance directive advises your health care providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) who can make health care decisions on your behalf and also advises these health care agents what sort of care you would like in your final illness.

Georgia has a statute entitled the Georgia Advanced Directive for Health Care Act which was enacted in 2007.

The Georgia advance directive consists of four parts as follows:

  1. Part 1 – Here you appoint a health care agent to make health care decisions for you when you cannot make those decisions for yourself.  That would normally occur when an individual is incapacitated by a medical condition.  Remember, we are talking about health care decisions and not business decisions.  Business decisions are handled with a business power of attorney.
  2. Part 2 is similar to a will in that you outline your treatment preferences if you have a terminal condition or if you are in a state of permanent unconsciousness.  This advises your health care agent (and the physicians taking care of you) how you want your final illness to be handled and what level of care you want in that final illness.  We all know that with today’s medical advances, one can be kept alive indefinitely, but most people do not want that.  Of course, you should have an honest conversation with your health care agent about the level of care you want if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate that yourself.  Remember, this will only become effective if you are unable to communicate your treatment preferences.
  3. Part 3 allows you to nominate a person to be your guardian should one be needed.
  4. Part 4 is a signature page wherein you can elect to have the health care advance directive become effective immediately or it can become effective sometime in the future.

Generally, the health care agent you designate has the authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to communicate these decisions yourself.  The agent also has the same authority to make any health care decision that you could make (assuming you are incapacitated).  These decisions include power to admit or discharge you from any hospital or nursing facility, to consent to or withhold any type of health care and to obligate you to pay for health care services.

Willis L. (Wyn) Miller, III, a partner with the law firm of Dover Miller Karras & Langdale, P.C., practices contract, transactional, and health care law.  We are a full service law firm; contact us for any legal needs you may have.