Advance Medical Directives

  Advance directives are written instructions relating to medical care for an incapacitated person.  Estate planning is not just about planning for after death; it is also about planning for who will make medical and financial decisions in the event of incapacity and explaining a person’s end of life wishes. 

 A medical power of attorney is signed to appoint an “agent” to make health care decisions in the event that a person is unable to make his or her own medical decisions.  Without a valid medical power of attorney, if a person becomes incapacitated the family may need to go to court to establish a guardianship.  In a guardianship hearing, the court determines who will be in charge of medical decisions.  If there is a disagreement in the family about who should be in charge, this process can be very expensive and difficult for the family.

 A living will directs when life sustaining treatment, artificial nutrition, and artificial hydration should be withdrawn.  If two doctors state that a person has an incurable or irreversible condition or is in a persistent vegetative state and lacks decision-making capacity, that person can let their loved ones know if or when they wish for medical services to be stopped.  

 In addition, a HIPAA release is necessary to ensure that medical information is released to both medical and financial decision makers. A seriously ill person or someone who is already in a nursing facility may also speak to their physician about a Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST) form, which is designed to summarize a person’s wishes.

 The bottom line is that planning ahead by executing advanced directives will save you and your family time, expense, and conflict.  When there is a medical crisis, the last thing that the family needs is an argument about who is in charge and the course of treatment that should be followed.

Signing these documents does not take power away from you, it simply allows your loved ones to protect you if you are incapacitated and follow your end of life wishes.


This article was submitted by Elizabeth D. Mitchell, Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA).*  Beth is an attorney with Ambler & Keenan, LLC and may be reached at 303-407-1543 or by email at  *The state of Colorado does not certify attorneys in any field.