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What is an Advanced Directive for Healthcare?

When most of us consider estate planning, we think about preparing a will or a trust.  However, when creating an estate plan, it is extremely important to also consider the possibility that there might come a time where we are unable to communicate with our doctors about the care we want to receive.  Because of this possibility, it is important that you consider adding an advanced directive for healthcare among your estate planning documents.

What is an advanced directive for healthcare?

An advanced directive for healthcare, also known as a living will, is a document that provides you with control over whether or not your life should be prolonged using artificial means (for example, using a respirator) if you become incompetent, unconscious or develop a terminal illness.  This document instructs your doctor and other healthcare professionals about your preferences with regard to taking artificial measures to prolong your life if you become unable to do so yourself.  The document also clarifies your wishes to your family and loved ones, should a disagreement arise among them.

In most circumstances, your doctor must follow your wishes as outlined in your advanced directive for healthcare.  If your doctor or other healthcare provider is unable to comply or if he or she is unwilling to comply with your wishes, every effort must be made to have you transferred to another doctor or institution that will move forward with your directives.

Who can make an advanced directive for healthcare?

Under Pennsylvania law, almost anyone can make an advanced directive for healthcare.  Anyone who is at least 18 years of age, or who is married, or who has graduated from high school can create and sign their own directive as long as they are considered to be of sound mind.  The directive does not require notarization but the signature of the document must be witnessed by at least two adults.

Who can make medical treatment decisions on my behalf if I am unable to do so?

In Pennsylvania, you have the option to name a surrogate who will make medical treatment decisions on your behalf if you become incompetent, unconscious or develop a terminal condition.  A surrogate’s ability to make medical decisions is only effective under these circumstances.  If, however, you want to designate someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf under different medical circumstances, you will want to consider making a healthcare power of attorney in addition to your advanced directive for healthcare.

We can help.

Not only does your advanced directive for healthcare allow you to stay in control of your medical treatment, it also makes things easier for your loved ones and family who will not have to guess what your wishes would have been.  Keep in mind, however, that your advanced directive for healthcare is just one piece of your entire estate plan.  It is advised that you consult a trusted estate planning attorney who can discuss your specific situation with you and who can provide guidance about how to proceed with creating your estate plan.  To discuss your specific needs and to find out how an estate planning lawyer in Pittsburgh can help you, please call us at Fingeret Law at 412.281.8222 or contact us online.


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