ENSURING YOUR MEDICAL TREATMENT PREFERENCES
October 22, 2020 | Joseph E. Kluger
A horrific automobile accident. The sudden onset of a potentially fatal, contagious disease. Life can change quickly, taking away a person’s ability to make decisions about his or her medical treatments. You have the right to request medical treatment that you want, and to refuse medical treatment you do not want. But if you’re incapacitated, you cannot communicate your wishes.
That’s why it’s crucial to make your treatment preferences known in advance. In Pennsylvania, there are two legal documents which facilitate that – living wills and medical powers of attorney. (Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn estate planning attorney Joseph Kluger notes that “the terms Living Wills, Do Not Resuscitate documents, and Advance Directives are often used interchangeably, although there are sometimes small differences between them.”)
In Pennsylvania, a living will consists of written instructions expressing your intentions regarding the use, withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment. While some living wills may address specific health care needs, the lawyers at Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn usually suggest a more broad form document which expresses your general intentions while taking the burden off of loved ones as to what your desires would be should you not be able to communicate your intentions.
The living will may be revoked at any time and in any manner by the individual (“principal”) who executes it, usually by the execution of a revocation of living will and perhaps the execution of a new living will changing the name of the agent(s) to act on behalf of the principal. Good practice is to then provide a copy of the revocation and new living will to the principal’s attending physician and the principal’s general practitioner.
Health Care Powers of Attorney
In addition to a living will, you can create a medical power of attorney (MPOA), which allows you to grant another person (“agent”) the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Your health care agent can be authorized to do many things such as:
• authorize your admission to a medical, nursing, residential or other facility
• enter into agreements for your care
• authorize medical and surgical procedures
• make an anatomical gift of all or part of your body in accordance with Pennsylvania law governing anatomical gifts, but only if you so direct in the applicable power of attorney
You can revoke or amend an MPOA at any time until you are no longer able to make medical decisions, and the procedures are similar to the revocation of a living will (as discussed above).
No living will. No MPOA. No certainty.
If you do not have an MPOA, a representative may be appointed by the Court in accordance with Pennsylvania law if medical treatment is required and you do not have the appropriate legal documents in place. This is not only a costly process, but also may not result in the agent being the person you would most want to make significant medical decisions for you. The best way to remove uncertainty from the process and you have executed a valid medical power of attorney.
To discuss creating a living will or medical power of attorney, call Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn at 570-287-3000. If you already have these documents, consider having them reviewed, especially if you haven’t done so in 3-5 years or more, if you’ve had a recent diagnosis of a serious condition, if you have had a change in your marital status or if there has been some other life changing event.