Elder Law includes estate planning, yet has a more comprehensive focus on Advance Directives – documents prepared for possible incapacity. Advance Directives include:
- Living Wills
- Health Care Surrogate Designations
- Directives to Physicians
- Advance Directives for Mental Health matters
- Living Wills
A Living Will expresses to doctors – and others a person’s wishes – regarding the use of life-sustaining medical procedures under three conditions in Florida: an end stage condition, terminal condition, and a persistent vegetative state. A Living Will is NOT a substitute for a health care surrogate or durable medical power of attorney.
Living Wills can be written in general or very specific terms. Elder law attorneys are typically more knowledgeable about many different circumstances for which a Living Will may be indicated. Living Wills should not be merely simple forms but should be as thorough as possible in communicating an individual’s wishes.
A Health Care Surrogate or Health Care Power of Attorney:
The Health Care Surrogate Designation or Health Care Power of Attorney is a powerful document that can be used by your surrogate (the person you name) to assist you when you are unable to make your own medical decisions.
The surrogate can access medical information and assist in making medical decisions when you need it, then, if you no longer need assistance, step out until you need help again. With a health care surrogate in place, medical staff will be able to provide your named surrogate with full information about your health status. The surrogate can also hire medical personnel for you, access insurance information, and make a variety of important decisions on your behalf. Medical privacy regulations under HIPAA may prevent hospitals, nurses, doctors, insurance companies, etc. from disclosing medical information to relatives and friends. A Health Care Surrogate is a document authorized by Florida Law that should allow for waiver of this privacy restriction so information can be given to those you want told about your medical situation.
If you do not name a person to make decisions for you at the time you need them, two things could happen. Either the hospital could designate a Health Care Proxy to make decisions for you, or a court could appoint a guardian. In both cases there are various limitations made upon the decision maker and someone who does not know you will choose your decision maker.