The law in the state of Ohio (and in many other states) allows for the patient to give “advance directives.” There are two primary documents that can be prepared ahead of time to protect your rights and express your wishes if you are unable to grant informed consent for your own care. These are the Living Will and the Health Care Power of Attorney.
A Living Will is a legal document which allows the individual to give specific direction regarding his or her wishes for medical care. In this document you express your wishes related to specific areas such as quality of life, treatment (or treatments you do not want), and resuscitation. The goal of this document is to be as detailed as possible in expressing your wishes for care in the event you are not able to make informed consent decisions with your physician.
Health Care Power of Attorney
The Health Care Power of Attorney, also known as a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, is a legal document in which the individual chooses another person to make health care decisions for him or her. While the Living Will cannot address every situation that may arise, the designated Health Care Power of Attorney can make decisions that would be in keeping with what the patient wants.
When implemented correctly in conjunction with a Living Will, the Health Care Power of Attorney fills in the gaps for situations that your Living Will does not address. Even though you set out your wishes in your Living Will, such documents could never address every possible circumstance, leaving the person who has a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care to make decisions not covered by your Living Will.
Your health care agent (the person with the Health Care Power of Attorney) can never contradict the terms of your Living Will. Instead, that person is trusted to fill in gaps, for situations not covered by your Living Will, or in case your Living Will is invalidated for any reason.
Storing and Accessing Advance Directives
It is important to store your Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney in a safe location that is also accessible in the event you are incapacitated. We receive questions about how and where to store these documents fairly often. Here are some suggestions on how to store and access these important documents.
Carry It With You – Place a card or other note in your wallet, purse, and/or glove compartment of your car. The card should contain the name and contact information of your health care agent (family member, Health Care Power of Attorney holder, and attorney) as well as the location where you keep the original document and copies.
In Your Home – Keep the original documents in a secure filing location in your residence. Make sure to tell your family, health care agents, and friends where the documents are stored. Most hospitals will request an original making it necessary that the originals can be easily located. We also recommend that you note the location of the originals on all copies of your advance directives.
With Your Physician – A copy of your Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, and any other advance directives should be kept on file with your primary care physician.
Your Health Care Agent and Alternate Agents – Your primary health care agent and any alternate agents should have a copy of your Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney. The agents will be required to provide these documents if you are unable.
In Your Hospital Chart – If you find yourself in the hospital for surgery, emergency, or other care, have a copy of your advance directives added to your chart. Your health care agent or a family member may also have these documents added to your chart upon request.