The New Hampshire Advance Directive deals with health care decision making. It contains two parts. Part one is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Part two is the Living Will.
The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to name another individual (called the “Agent”) to make health care decisions for you in the event that you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. Before the Agent can act, your physician must certify that you are incapacitated. The Agent’s authority begins only after that certification has occurred.
Once the Power of Attorney is activated by your health care provider, the Agent can make a variety of health care decisions for you. This might include everything from a having a flu shot to consenting to surgery to major decisions regarding end of life care. The Durable Power of Attorney allows you to specifically authorize your agent to make decisions regarding the use of life support, organ donation, and Do Not Resuscitate (“DNR”) orders.
If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, then no one will have the legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. Although medical providers may be willing to speak to your close family members for decision making, if there is any disagreement, then it is generally necessary to have a court appointed guardian. The appointment of a guardian involves a lengthy court process, including a hearing and court fees. Guardianship can be avoided by naming the Health Care Agent of your choice in an Advance Directive, while you have the capacity to do so. If you have not designated your Health Care Agent, using an Advance Directive, and you become incapacitated, then it will be too late to sign an Advance Directive, and guardianship may be the only option.
The second part of an Advance Directive is the Living Will. A Living Will is a document which allows you to declare that you do not want your life to be prolonged by life support systems or artificial feeding tubes in the event that you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This document provides your Health Care Agent with guidance about your end of life care. It can be a source of great comfort to the Health Care Agent to know something about your wishes so that they can feel confident about the decisions they make on your behalf.
The Advance Directive is an important document which can provide a great deal of information to your family about how to make health care decisions for you. It is important to choose your Health Care Agent carefully, to be sure that they will be able carry out your wishes. Once you have chosen an Agent, you should provide him / her with a copy of the Advance Directive and discuss your end of life care wishes with them. You should also discuss your end of life care wishes with your health care providers to be sure you understand the medical circumstances that may give rise to the need to consult your Agent. Finally, you should confirm that your health care providers are comfortable with your end of life care values. These kinds of conversations may be difficult to initiate but are invaluable in the event of a health care crisis.
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This material is introductory and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with your lawyer for estate planning services based upon your specific circumstances.