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Before You Go… The Differences in Advance Directives, Living Wills, Power of Attorney, and Why it Matters

Before You GoWe prepare for things in advance all the time. From parties to exams to vacations, being knowledgeable and ready is a part of day to day life. But, few of us take the time to prepare for something we all will eventually do. That is, we are often unprepared for end-of-life and emergency care. Advance directives are a way of ensuring your desires are met.

Often, the assumption is that such preparation only matters once we’re old enough. This assumption, however, is not only untrue, but it’s also poor planning. Emergencies and unexpected events can happen at any time, and being prepared is a good idea for everyone. Ending up in the hospital with your family and friends having no clear picture of what to do when you can’t speak for yourself is a taxing ordeal. Being prepared and well-studied can not only lower the stress, but it can also cut down on fights and headaches.

Far from being the domain of the elderly, planning who gets to make decisions when you cannot make them yourself is a vital consideration for everyone. In Ohio, two legal documents deal with these concerns.

The Ohio Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

This document allows you to name an agent, someone to make choices about your medical care if you cannot do so yourself. This includes decisions on life-sustaining treatment. Not only that but the person you appoint can also make decisions at any time you cannot decide for yourself, not just during end-of-life care. A doctor decides when you cannot make decisions and it is then when the durable power of attorney comes into effect.

You may choose a variety of people as your agent, as long as you trust them to make choices that align with your wishes. However, some people cannot be your agent. These include your doctor, any administrator of a nursing home that you receive care from, and an employee or agent of your doctor or health care facility, unless they are part of the same religious order.

The Ohio Living Will Declaration

This document is your actual living will. Inside this document, you can state your desires about health care that should take place when you are terminally ill or rendered permanently unconscious. Because you cannot make your own choices in these situations, this document can help determine what, if any, healthcare should take place. This document goes into effect once a doctor decides that you cannot make choices for yourself.

Organ Donation Enrollment Form

This form is where you can address your organ donation decisions so these wishes can be carried out even if your living will declaration cannot be located.

For Ohio to consider these documents legal, you must either sign them in front of a notary public or you must have two witnesses to your signature. These witnesses cannot be related to you, your agent, your doctor, or any administrator of a nursing home that you receive care from.

This is just a brief primer and cannot stand in for legal advice. There are also some things these documents do not cover, such as mental illness considerations. Speak to an attorney to answer any questions and make sure that your documents are valid so that they best carry out your wishes.