Advance Directives: How To Ensure Your Medical Wishes Are Honored

Elderly couple reviewing their Virginia Advance Directive for their medical care

Unexpected medical emergencies or incapacitating illnesses can prevent individuals from communicating their treatment preferences. Advance directives, sometimes known as living wills or healthcare power of attorney, allow individuals to outline their healthcare wishes in advance. A Virginia Advance Directive ensures that even if you cannot speak for yourself, your medical care wishes are respected. Let’s delve into what these directives entail and why they are so important.

What Are Advance Directives?

A Virginia Advance Directive is a legal document that allows individuals to express their healthcare preferences in advance. It protects your right to refuse medical treatment you do not want or to request treatment you do want in the event you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. Advance directives typically cover a range of medical decisions, including the use of life-sustaining treatments, resuscitation preferences, organ donation wishes, and palliative care options.

Why Are Advance Directives Important?

Personalized Healthcare Decisions

By documenting your healthcare preferences in advance, you can ensure that your values and beliefs regarding medical treatment are respected, even if you cannot communicate them later. This empowers you to maintain control over your healthcare decisions.

Reduced Family Burden

Advance directives can help prevent disputes among family members about the appropriate course of medical treatment. When you clearly outline your wishes, it alleviates the burden on loved ones who may otherwise struggle to make difficult decisions on your behalf.

Avoiding Unwanted Treatments

Advance directives empower you to specify the types of medical interventions you do not wish to receive, such as prolonged life support or aggressive treatments with minimal chances of recovery.

Peace of Mind

Knowing that your healthcare preferences are documented can provide peace of mind, both for you and your family members. It removes uncertainty and ensures that medical decisions align with your wishes.

How to Create a Virginia Advance Directive

Creating advance directives involves thoughtful consideration and consultation with legal and medical professionals. Here are some key steps in the process:

Consider Your Preferences

Reflect on your values, beliefs, and preferences regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care.

Complete the Form

Obtain a Virginia Advance Directive Form, readily available online or through healthcare providers. Fill out the form thoroughly, including your preferences for medical treatment and designating a healthcare agent.

Witness and Notarize

In Virginia, advance directives must be signed in the presence of two witnesses or notary public to be legally valid.

Distribute Copies

Provide copies of your advance directive to your healthcare agent, family members, and healthcare providers. Ensure that everyone involved in your care is aware of your preferences.

When To See A Legal Professional

While individuals can complete their advance directives in certain situations, consulting with a legal professional is advisable for most. Sometimes, it’s even necessary to have an attorney assist in drafting or creating the advance directives. Doing so offers valuable guidance and peace of mind, ensuring that your healthcare preferences are clearly outlined and legally protected. Instances where legal consultation is crucial:

Understanding the Form

If any part of the form is unclear or if you’re uncertain about the consequences of the decisions it entails, seeking legal consultation is wise. A legal professional can help clarify any confusing aspects and ensure you fully comprehend the implications of your choices.

Family Conflict or Capacity Concerns

If there’s potential for family conflict or doubts about the individual’s capacity to complete the form, legal consultation, and possibly the drafting of the advance directive by a professional, are prudent. This can help mitigate disputes and ensure the document accurately reflects the individual’s wishes.

Legal Considerations

It’s essential to understand whether the individual’s wishes can be legally upheld and if any laws prevent certain requests. Consulting with a legal professional ensures compliance with relevant laws and regulations, thus avoiding complications down the line.

Updating Existing Documents

If you already have advance directives in place but need to update them due to changes in your medical condition or personal preferences, consulting with a legal professional is crucial. This ensures that your updated documents remain legally valid and accurately reflect your current wishes.

Review & Update Regularly

It’s essential to review your advance directive periodically and update it as needed, particularly after significant life events such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a healthcare agent. Keeping your directive current ensures that it accurately reflects your wishes.

A Safeguard for Your Autonomy

In summary, advance directives are crucial for safeguarding your autonomy and ensuring your healthcare preferences are respected. By creating one, you take control of your healthcare decisions, offering clarity to your loved ones in difficult times. It’s a proactive step toward peace of mind for you and your family.

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Donita King

Ms. King is a member of the Virginia, Pennsylvania, and D.C. State Bars. She also serves as a University of Richmond School of Law Adjunct Professor of Mediation. She previously served on the Virginia Bar Association Joint ADR Council (2015 Chair), and served for several years on the Governor of Virginia’s Interagency Dispute Resolution Council. Ms. King currently serves as a board member of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board by appointment of the Virginia Supreme Court and has been active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Women in Business as well. Se habla espanol.

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