MARCH 1 , 2010 VOLUME 17, NUMBER 7
Everyone should sign a living will and (perhaps more importantly) a health care power of attorney. You knew that already, right? But how should one go about preparing a living will?
The answer is deceptively simple. Forms are widely available online, from health care providers and from aging advocacy organizations (to name just a few places). One of the best in Arizona (because it is well-formatted and easy to get to) is offered by the Arizona Attorney General’s office. Those forms are generally fine, though obviously neither comprehensive nor customized. Your lawyer can (and probably will) prepare a more extensive and personalized document as part of your estate plan — your will and (if you create one) your living trust.
Be aware of state variations. Your state may refer to the health care power of attorney as a health care “proxy,” or call your agent a “patient advocate.” You will want to make sure any forms you use are appropriate for your state — that may not require the involvement of a lawyer, but your estate planning lawyer will be able to address the same questions while preparing your estate plan.
Most people will want to sign both a living will and a health care power of attorney, though the common practice in many states (including Arizona) is to incorporate both into a single document. Depending on your state there may even be other kinds of “advance directives” to consider — like a mental health power of attorney, or an authorization for autopsy, organ donation and/or cremation (Arizona permits all of those additional directives).
More important than the particular advance directive you sign, however, is the information you provide to family members. That’s the point of a new online video offered (in two parts) by retired University of Arizona law professor Kenney Hegland. Part 2 stands alone, but the two segments really work better together. Incidentally, Prof. Hegland (along with Fleming & Curti partner Robert Fleming) is the author of New Times, New Challenges: Law and Advice for Savvy Seniors and Their Families, and his advice is practical as well as legal.
Your advance directives are most useful if they are highly personalized. Clear directions and full information will increase the likelihood that your wishes are carried out, and provide your family with both comfort and direction.
Professor Hegland’s two-part video is at once entertaining and useful. He suggests that you write out your thoughts on end-of-life care, and provide your loved ones with explanations along with your actual instructions. You can also address related issues — what you want your obituary to highlight, who should speak at your funeral services, and more.
There are a handful of useful video resources available online addressing living wills and advance directives. Oddly, few of them offer practical advice about writing or signing the documents themselves. Most are promotional pieces by attorneys or online legal forums, describing the meaning and perhaps the importance of the documents. Three notable exceptions you might look at if you like Prof. Hegland’s submission: (1) a touching description, complete with family interviews, of the care forced upon Robert Wendland and his family when he was critically injured without having signed an advance directive — in two parts, (2) the cute but not terribly informative class project of a student named Maha, performed with a CPR dummy, and (3) the Arizona Attorney General’s dramatization about life care planning, including living wills and advance directives (to play this video, go to the AG’s “life care planning” page and click on the video link under “Life Care Planning For Everyone”).