What Is An Advance Medical Directive?

For most of us, it is our goal to live our entire life being able to make decisions around health care and more on our own, but unfortunately, that does not always happen. 

If you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make your own medical decisions, who would you like to be able to make decisions on your behalf? What are your preferences as far as the types of medical care you would like to receive? Do you want to donate your organs? The answers to these questions and more are what advance medical directives are intended to resolve.

Advance directives are an important component of your overall estate planning, and all adults should consider having them. An experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney can help you with the process of end of life planning and documenting your treatment preferences so you can make your wishes known.

What Is An Advance Medical Directive?

At their core, advance medical directives are simply documents stating your treatment preferences and who you would like to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to. Advance directives in North Carolina generally fall into one of four categories – living wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies, and a declaration of an anatomical gift (organ donation).

These documents were originally developed as a result of concerns around patients undergoing potentially unnecessary medical procedures in an effort to artificially extend life, and in the process, sometimes causing the patient to suffer more.

Types Of Advance Medical Directives

  • Living Wills – The living will is a document that specifies what types of medical care you desire if you should become incapacitated. If your physician determines that your condition is terminal, do you want to withhold measures that would only prolong the process of dying? That, and other treatments such as pain relievers, CPR, artificial feeding and respiration are common items detailed in a living will.
  • Power Of Attorney – The Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) allows a specified individual to execute legal documents on your behalf if you are unable to do it on your own. The DPOA can also allow different people to handle different items for you – for example, one person to execute financial documents, one to handle health care documents, etc. In North Carolina, you can designate any competent individual 18 years old or older as your health care power of attorney, other than the doctor or health care professional who is overseeing your care.
  • Health Care Proxy – A Health Care Proxy is a document where you can designate another person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do it on your own. The individual you choose would have the same capability to request or decline treatments as you would be able to if you were able to communicate and make decisions.
  • Declaration Of An Anatomical Gift – Through a declaration of an anatomical gift, you can state your preferences around organ donation, and whether you want to donate certain organs for transplantation or other purposes, or even your entire body for study and research.

How Is A Living Will Different Than A Living Trust Or Will?

Living wills, living trusts, and last will and testaments all sound similar and are easy to confuse, and although there are some similarities, each have different purposes in estate planning. 

A living trust is an arrangement in which control of certain assets are transferred to a trustee while you are still alive. The trustee manages the assets on your behalf, and if it’s a revocable living trust, you can move in and out assets as you wish.

A will is simply a document that outlines what should be done with your estate after your passing, where you specify beneficiaries and an executor to carry out your wishes after death.

What Is The NC Advance Health Care Directive Registry?

The North Carolina Advance Health Care Directive Registry is a service provided by the NC Secretary of State’s office to file your advance directives. They will create a profile for you in the Secretary of State Knowledge Base, and send you Registry Cards to be able to access your directives online. 

The registry is totally voluntary, and even if you choose to do this, we recommend that you ensure that everyone who needs to know your wishes (family, medical professionals, etc) is aware of them.

Note that the registry and the NC Secretary Of State are prohibited from giving legal advice – they’re just a place to store the directives after you work with your estate planning attorney to craft a plan and create the documents.

What If I Change My Mind In The Future?

If at some point in the future your wishes change, don’t worry – you can change your advance directives! Any time you have major life changes that necessitate an update of your advance directives, or just have a change of heart, we can work with you to update your documents.

And, if you’re using the registry to file documentation, you can revoke the filing of any advance medical directive by filling out and submitting the Removal Form on the NC Secretary of State website and they will remove the records. Note, only the person who originally sent the paperwork in can revoke the directive.

How Can An Attorney Help?

Our team here at David E Anderson PLLC can talk through your options and preferences around your health care planning. From that discussion, we will craft a plan around advance directives to honor your wishes and preferences to protect you if you are unable to make these decisions on your own in the future. Call us today at 910-509-7287 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation today.

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