A Basic Understanding of Medical Directives

Along with a growing understanding and appreciation for medical directives are many practical questions that need to be addressed. This article is meant to help you understand and complete a medical directive.

A medical directive, regardless of when it is signed, takes effect when you are deemed unable to make or communicate your own decisions. For that reason, you don’t need to wait until you are old or terminally ill to complete one. There are two types of medical directives — living wills and powers of attorney for health care (POAHC). A living will is a “what” document, because it attempts to describe the care or treatment that you wish. A POAHC is a “who” document, because it states the name of the person you want to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot make them yourself.

At CLR, and in many medical circles, a POAHC is the preferred document. When completing a POAHC, you need to fill in the blanks that are provided in the document. For example, you need to write your name, address, and date for identification purposes. Then you must designate the person to make decisions for you if you become unable to make them on your own. This person is called your agent, proxy, or surrogate. We recommend the selection of at least one alternate to serve in that capacity in case the primary person is unable or unwilling to serve.

You also need to sign the document and date it. Make sure you sign the document in the presence of two witnesses or a notary (state statutes differ as to whether you need a notary’s signature). The witnesses cannot be people who care for your medical needs or could possibly benefit from your death.

Once you have completed the document, we recommend that you make extra copies and share them with specific interested parties (i.e., a copy to your physician, a copy to each of your health care agents, and possibly a copy to your clergy). Write down the names of those who received copies so you have a record. You can record those names directly to the back of your document. Then put your original in a place that is known and accessible by your family. Do not put your POAHC in a lock box.

Although medical directives are legal documents, it is not required that an attorney prepare the document for you. If, however, you have questions, an attorney can serve as a valuable resource for you. If you wish to create a new medical directive, you may do so at any time. If you create a new document, make sure you destroy the old document and inform your family and physician accordingly.

CLR developed a Power of Attorney for Health Care Christian Version as an alternative to living wills and other medical directive options. To our knowledge, these documents are the only directives that include a Christian witness and are customized for each of our 50 states and some Canadian provinces.

If you would like to get a copy of our document, click here. You can download a free copy of the document, as well as the Explanatory Supplement which guides you through the process of completing your form. You can also purchase a packet (either for an individual or for a couple) which includes the state-specific document, its explanatory supplement, and other valuable materials by clicking here. Call the CLR office with any questions at 800-729-9535.


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