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DC Estate Planning: Advance Medical Directives

In DC, an advance medical directive is an estate planning tool used to assist with planning for incapacity by appointing an agent to make decisions on a person’s behalf and expressing their wishes in the event of an end stage condition, terminal condition, or if they are in a persistent vegetative state with no reasonable hope for recovery.

Generally, an advance medical directive may also express a person’s wishes for organ donation and may also include their wishes for burial or cremation after their death. For further information about advance medical directives and their role in the estate planning process, schedule a consultation with a Washington, DC estate planning lawyer.

Benefits of Having an Advance Medical Directive

An advance medical directive is probably one of the most important documents a person can have as part of their estate planning package because the document governs the individual during his or her lifetime. The other primary benefit of having an advance medical directive is that it may avoid the necessity of having a guardian appointed for a person to make health care decisions when he or she begins to lack capacity. Initiating a guardianship proceeding in the District of Columbia can be a costly and lengthy proceeding.

In addition, a person can speak with their agent during their lifetime while they have the capacity to do so, the agent can then prepare and feel comfortable making the person’s healthcare decisions on their behalf when they are no longer able to do so.

Difference From Power of Attorney in DC Estate Planning

An advance medical directive and a medical power of attorney are similar documents created for the purpose of allowing an agent to act on your behalf to make medical decisions when you are no longer able to make them for yourself. However, clients in DC often confuse a power of attorney for financial and legal matters with the medical power of attorney or an advance directive. Often, these are two separate documents which confer different sets of authority.

Typically, minimal planning for incapacity involves the creation of a durable power of attorney for financial and legal purposes and a medical power of attorney for health care decisions. The power of attorney is used to allow someone to make financial or legal decisions. It can be used in the event of incapacity and can also be used in the event of unavailability. It is often effective immediately, and does not require a client’s incapacity for an attorney-in-fact to act on his or her behalf. For example, it is common for clients in DC to execute a power of attorney to allow someone to act in their stead if they anticipate being overseas for vacation or work. The document would allow the attorney-in-fact to act on the individuals behalf to make financial decisions, assist with the paying of bills, or to assist with legal matters. The client may maintain his or her capacity, but be unavailable to act without assistance.

In Washington, DC a medical power of attorney or health care directive is meant to nominate an agent to act on an individual’s behalf for medical decisions in the event they no longer have the capacity to make those decisions on their own. Like the power of attorney for financial and legal matters, the health care power of attorney is effective immediately upon signing by the client, but is not used until the client lacks capacity to make his or her own health care decisions.

Considerations When Appointing Advance Medical Directives

It is important that a person trusts their health care agent in DC to carry out their wishes. It is essential for individuals to discuss their wishes with their healthcare agent so that their agent is prepared to make difficult decisions regarding life support, nutrition, and hydration in the event that a person is in an end stage condition, has a terminal illness, or is in a permanent vegetative state with no reasonable hope for recovery.

It’s also critical to evaluate whether that person may be able to make those decisions. For example, sometimes a person may not feel that their spouse would be able to make the difficult decision of ending life support. Instead, they appoint somebody who is close to them that may be a little bit further removed and has the clarity to make that decision if it best expresses their wishes.