(Your Guide to Advance Medical Directives)
My favorite sitcom growing up was “Martin”. Starring the incomparable Martin Lawrence, the show became a classic during its five-year run. What made the show so funny was the crazy cast of characters that made an appearance, many being played by Martin himself. These characters included Jerome (the Playa from the Himalayas), Sheneneh Jenkins (Martin’s neighbor), and Otis (the security guard) to name a few. There were other characters that made periodic appearances, but others who only showed up in one episode. In the show’s first season, Martin’s toilet in his apartment was giving him problems, so he hired a plumber to come fix it. During the middle of the job, the plumber “died” or so Martin and his friends thought. The reality is the plumber had a medical condition that left him incapacitated in a deep slumber. That did not stop the plumber from acquiring the nickname from Martin, “DP” which stood for “Dead Plumber Man”. “DP’s” medical condition, which left him incapacitated, presents some interesting questions. What happens when you are incapable of making medical decisions on your own? What can you do to plan ahead?
Advance medical directives can be an answer to both of these questions. An advance medical directive is a document that allows a person to appoint an agent that will be responsible for making all health care decisions on the person’s behalf. Many states require that these documents must be signed in the presence of two witnesses; others require a notary as well. An advance medical directive goes into effect when a person is incapacitated; but, how is that determined? Typically, this decision is made by a physician who examines an individual. This document can also grant the agent the ability to be privy to all medical information via the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPPA. This allows the agent to discuss medical care and decisions on behalf of the principal (the person for whom the document is written).
So who should serve as an agent? This should be someone that you trust to carry out your desires as it pertains to your health care decisions. It is preferred that you select an alternate or backup agent in the event that your initial choice is unable or unwilling to serve in an agent capacity. Whomever is chosen, it is wise to have a conversation about your desires prior to becoming incapacitated. It is also important to note that the principal may revoke or amend their advance medical directive at any time. Whether you are a temporarily incapacitated plumber or just someone who wants to ensure that their desires are carried out, having an advance medical directive as a part of your estate plan is crucial to accomplishing your estate planning objectives.
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