A living will and power of attorney are two instruments you can use to make decisions about your medical care. They are called advance directives since they give you the ability to make directives in advance of a catastrophic medical problem.
A living will lets you state your wishes about medical care or choose someone else to make those decisions if can’t do so. A health care power of attorney also allows you to choose someone to make health care decisions if you are unable to do so yourself.
Some details about these advance directives
A living will is not technically a will and it is not meant to supplant a will. It is a legally binding document that states how you should be treated in a medical emergency. Many living wills specify that a patient, usually elderly, should not be kept alive by “extraordinary means.”
To create a living will in North Carolina, you must be older than 18 and mentally competent. The living will must be signed, witnessed, dated and notarized and provided with a specific form.
What actions constitute “extraordinary means” are up for debate and span the breadth of potential medical problems a human may face. Generally, an extraordinary measure would keep a patient alive when facing certain death, is incurable or is in a persistent vegetative state. The medical prognosis needs to be agreed in writing by a second physician.
And yes, there are second chances. If you can communicate your desire to revoke your living will, then the physician will honor it.
Health care power of attorney
You can authorize a person to be your health care agent to make decisions about your physical and mental health needs when you can no longer communicate those needs. This gives that person the power of attorney.
This person can make decisions not only is life-and-death scenarios but also in other situations like surgery, autopsy or organ donation. This is especially valuable if you have specific religious requirements.
You can revoke power of attorney if you can communicate your decision. Power of attorney also is revoked in the case of divorce or separation.
If you haven’t created a living will or issued power of attorney for health care and you are in a dire medical condition, the attending physician will talk with your spouse, next of kin or legal guardian to determine next steps, including keeping you or removing you from life-prolonging equipment.