Advance Directive Attorneys in St. Louis, Missouri
No matter their age, the average person likely knows what a will does and why it’s important to have one. However, there are other estate planning documents that can be just as important that are far less well known. Among these is an advance directive. According to data compiled by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, only 36.7% of individuals have completed an advance healthcare directive as part of their overall estate planning, which is far fewer people than have a will in place.
If you’re in the Chesterfield or St. Louis, Missouri area and would like to know more about this integral component of long-term estate planning, reach out to me at TdD Attorneys at Law. My team is ready to help you and your family move forward.
What Is an Advance Directive (Living Will)?
An advance healthcare directive (also called a living will) is an estate planning document that allows you to lay out your wishes for medical care should you become incapacitated or no longer able to communicate. It can also allow you to name a healthcare representative (sometimes referred to as a durable power of attorney for health care or a healthcare proxy) who can make medical decisions on your behalf.
Each advance directive will be tailored to the individual, but some common decisions that can be covered are:
- Whether to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops beating
- If you’d like to donate your body for research after your death
- What kind of palliative care you would or would not like
- If you’d like to be intubated, put on a mechanical ventilation machine, or put on dialysis
- Whether you want antibiotics or antiviral medications administered
Plan for Tomorrow
Health Care Representative
In addition to carefully laying out what specific treatment or care you’d like, it’s equally as important to assign someone as your health care representative when drafting a living will. No matter how much planning and preparation you do, there will always be circumstances beyond your control that you couldn’t predict. In these cases, your representative will step up to make decisions on your behalf.
In Missouri, your representative must be over the age of 18 and cannot be your physician or anyone who works in the health care facility where you’re a patient unless you’re related to them. Most people choose to assign a close relative or friend to this position since you’ll want someone whom you fully trust not only to carry out your own wishes, but someone who will make decisions based on what they think you would most likely choose yourself. Once you are declared incapacitated by a medical professional, your representative will then take over in a legal capacity.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Directive
A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) directive is often used in conjunction with a living will, but this can also be included in your medical chart outside of your advance directive. For example, if you find yourself unexpectedly hospitalized and have either not completed your advance directive or did not include a DNR, you can tell your doctor to add this to your record and the directive must be followed. Many estate planning attorneys recommend their clients include a DNR in their estate plan even if it’s already included in their living will.
POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment)
Another option people have for communicating their medical wishes is with a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), though in Missouri it may be called a Transportable Physician Orders for Patient Preferences (TPOPP). A POLST/TPOPP will have a DNR as well but also includes other medical decisions such as whether you’d like to be intubated, tube fed, or given antibiotics.
Making Modifications to Your Advance Directive
At any time during your life you can change your living will, but this should only be done with the help of an estate planning attorney and ideally after consulting with your primary care provider. Modifying an advance directive can be done at any time as long as you’re still of sound mind and body. Many people choose to modify their plan if they receive a new diagnosis, if they get married, or simply to update it every 10 years or so.
Note that whenever changes are made, you’ll need to get revised copies of the directive and distribute them to your doctor, your medical representative, and your family members (particularly if you feel that some of your decisions might be contentious). As always, you should keep the original in a safe place and always have a paper or digital copy of it that’s easily accessible.