Planning ahead: Advance directives – part 2

Don’t put off planning ahead for future needs – your quality of life, quality of care and health outcomes may depend on it.

There are a several terms used when it comes to planning ahead for future health care needs. It’s important to know what these terms mean and which documents are needed to ensure that your needs are met in the event that you can no longer make decisions for yourself. In a previous Michigan State University Extension news article the topics of power of attorney and durable power of attorney were discussed. This article explains advanced directives, specifically health care power of attorney, living will and do not resuscitate order. Below is a summary of each.

  • Health care power of attorney – This is a form used to designate a person (the patient advocate) to communicate the wishes of a person (the principal) with regards to their healthcare if he/she is incapacitated in a way that makes him/her unable to communicate. This is a contract between two competent adults that is witnessed by two additional adults. However, there are some stipulations on which individuals can be witnesses, which are listed on the Elder Law of Michigan website. The patient advocate can only act in the event that the principal cannot communicate his/her wishes, and ends when the principal’s health improves. Health care power of attorney is protected by Michigan law.
  • Living will – This is another form of an advance directive that outlines certain health care choices, such as medical treatments or procedures the patient wants to receive or not receive in specific, or any circumstances. The living will is different from the health care power of attorney in that with health care power of attorney someone is speaking on the patient’s behalf; with a living will the patient is speaking on behalf of themselves through the written document.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order – In 1996 it became Michigan law that any person can have a DNR order, meaning in the event that the patient has no vital signs, any healthcare personnel will not perform life saving measures, such as CPR. The DNR order must use the form indicated in state law, must be signed by the patient (or patient advocate if the patient is incapable), the patient’s doctor and two adult witnesses that are not a parent, child, grandchild, sibling or heir of the patient. It is important for the DNR order to be followed that there is a copy in the patient’s medical file, and is helpful if the patient wears a DNR bracelet for emergency personnel. A DNR order can be revoked at any time.

How does one get started on drafting advance directives? There are several state resources available, such as the local Area Agency on Aging, Elder Law of Michigan a Peace of Mind document available online or through your state representative, or your local MSU Extension office.

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