In this world of COVID-19, it has never been more important to have your estate planning up to date, especially your health care directives and living will. We have all seen on the news the state of hospitals today, overrun with coronavirus patients to the point where visitors and family members are not allowed in.

If you need to go to the hospital and cannot speak for yourself due to injury or incapacity, your doctor will need to contact your health care agent for instructions. This is where your health care power of attorney and living will come in handy.

As long as you can speak and can competently communicate with your doctor, you make all decisions with regard to your health care. This is your right as an American. But if the time should come when you cannot speak, the question is whether you will live or die. If you cannot speak but the doctor believes you will pull through, you need someone to make decisions for you until you recover and take back control of your health care. Your health care power of attorney appoints this person who will make all non-life-ending decisions for you.

However, if your doctor believes that all hope is gone and you are only existing on life support, you have already made the decision in your living will not to kept alive by artificial means. You direct that your physician withhold care that merely prolongs the dying process. This living will is a written document that governs the withholding of life-sustaining treatment from an individual who is faced with an incurable or irreversible medical condition that will lead to death in a short time. And it is your right to decide what steps will be included in this document to ensure that your wishes are carried out. When you can no longer make your wishes known due to incapacity, your living will takes effect and “speaks” for you. Your doctor will then follow your instructions.

At the same time, this document names a trusted person to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to make them for yourself. This is commonly referred to as appointing a “health care power of attorney.”

Living wills can be tailored individually to the specific situations which surround people and their families and can bring peace of mind by removing the uncertainty and confusion that can happen when tragedy strikes and loved ones are not sure how to proceed.

We all hope we will never have to use a document such as a living will, but if the unfortunate time should come when it is necessary, it can relieve the pressure your family may face of dealing with tough and confusing medical choices.

Living wills are permitted by law in most states, Rhode Island and Connecticut included. Also known as “health care proxies” and “advanced directives,” they are valuable estate-planning tools and can be prepared by an attorney who will ensure they are properly drafted to meet all legal requirements and are valid and enforceable.

Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-596-1726.

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