Estate Planning | Living Wills | Guardianship | Power of Attorney

Living Wills and Power of Attorney to Prepare for the Unexpected

The debate over the brain-damaged Florida woman, whose life-sustaining feeding tube was removed, drew considerable attention to a subject that most people would rather avoid: the importance of having health care powers of attorney and living wills.

Had the woman signed these documents, both sides in the case – her husband and her parents – would have avoided the debate over what they thought she wanted.

The lesson is simple. Now is the time for a person to decide what kind of health care he or she will want if they are ever unable to make life and death decisions. No matter what age or current health, a person should be prepared for a personal tragedy to strike. Anyone could be severely injured in a car accident, for example, and be kept alive by feeding tubes, respirators or other means of modern technology, even though he or she never regains consciousness.

With a power of attorney for health care, a person names another trusted person to make health care decisions for him or her. The law calls this person the "agent." People need to make certain their agents are aware of their wishes concerning future health care and that they are willing to continue or stop medical treatment in accordance with specified wishes.

A person can grant his or her agent as much power as desired. For example, he or she may want to tell the agent to do everything possible to keep him or her alive or to take into consideration any treatment that would limit pain and suffering.

A form called a Short Form Power of Attorney for Health Care is used to name an agent properly. The form can be obtained from a lawyer or a doctor. The statutory forms are also posted on the Illinois Department of Public Health Web site. Some of the information is available in both English and Spanish.

The law does not require the short form to be used. People may write their own power of attorney for health care provided as long as it:

  1. Names the person who will serve as the agent
  2. Describes the power granted to the agent
  3. Is signed and dated while they are still able to make decisions for themselves.

Changes to the power of attorney, including the agent for health care may be made by identifying the change in writing, then signing and dating it. It may be canceled at any time in a number of ways, including tearing it in half or drawing an "X" across it.

The agent and doctor should have an updated copy of a person’s power of attorney for health care document and both understand the person’s wishes.

Note: This information was prepared as a public service by the Illinois State Bar Association. Every effort has been made to provide accurate information at the time of publication. For the most current information, please consult your lawyer. If you need a lawyer and do not have one, visit our lawyer referral page.

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