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Advanced Healthcare Directives

An advance directive for health care authorizes the person you choose (called a health care representative) to make health care decisions for you in case you are in an accident or are too ill or too disabled to make those decisions yourself.


You can also use the advance directive to give your doctors and other health care providers instructions about the types of end-of-life care that you do want and that you do not want.


An advance directive does not include the authority to make financial decisions. If you want to authorize someone to make financial decisions for you, you should sign a durable financial power of attorney.

Elder Law Attorney for Rhode Island, Eastern Connecticut and Southeastern Massachusetts

Rhode Island, Southeastern Massachusetts and Eastern Connecticut Elder Law Attorney

How does this go into effect?


You are in charge of making your own health care decisions as long as you are able to do so. The health care representative does not have the power to make health care decisions for you unless your doctor determines that you are not capable of making and communicating health care decisions. The inability to make health care decisions may be temporary. You can start making your own health care decisions again if you regain the ability to do so.


The powers of your healthcare representative


The health care representative has the power to make most of the types of health care decisions that you could make for yourself. Some examples of those health care decisions are: Choosing a doctor, consenting to changes in medication, and making arrangements for long term care. You can use the advance directive form to authorize your health care representative to make decisions about life support and tube feeding. The health care representative is required to follow your wishes if your wishes are known.


Does this directive ever expire


The advance directive will remain valid during your lifetime unless you revoke it or unless there is a specific time limit written in the advance directive. The health care representative's authority ends when you die.


Choosing the healthcare representative


You choose the health care representative, who is usually a family member or friend who is familiar with your wishes concerning your medical care. You can also name an alternate health care representative to serve in case the first person you named is not able to or willing to act. Your doctor or someone who works for your doctor cannot be your health care representative.


The Benefits of Advanced Healthcare Representatives


If you become unable to make and communicate decisions about your health care and you have an advance directive, then your health care representative will have the authority to make health care decisions for you. If you do not have an advance directive, someone may have to go to court and be appointed as your guardian in order to make health care decisions for you.


Confidentiality laws prohibit doctors from sharing health care information with anyone except the patient, unless the patient authorizes the doctor to share this information with someone else. In some cases, the result of these laws is that family members are left in the dark during a medical crisis involving a loved one. By appointing a health care representative in an advance directive, a patient authorizes his or her doctor to share health care information with the representative.


The Disadvantages of Advanced Healthcare Representative


There will not be a court or a government agency watching over the health care representative to make sure that he or she is making necessary health care decisions. A doctor, a hospital, or another health care provider may refuse to accept the authority of the health care representative if there is a question about your ability to make your own health care decisions or if there is a disagreement among family members about important decisions.  


The elder attorney at Connelly Law Offices discuss advance directives and review the form with clients as part of the estate planning process.

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This website includes general information about legal issues, issues affecting seniors and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal issues and/or problems.