This article will be our first in a series discussing documents that are part of a complete estate plan.  This article will address Health Care Directives, sometimes called advanced directives, or health care powers of attorney.  A Health Care Directive allows you to name a person, called an “agent,” to make medical decisions on your behalf.

When you need to make a decision about your medical care, your health care provider of course provides you with the information you need to make your own informed decisions.  There are, however, situations where you may be unable to make these decisions on you own — such as when you are incapacitated or unable to communicate.

If you are unable to make medical decisions on your own, your health care provider will look to your emergency contacts to see who they should talk to about your medical care. If you have not filed your Health Care Directive with your health care provider, this emergency contact will be individual who will be responsible for delivering your Health Care Directive to the provider. Your Health Care Directive lists your health care agent —the person able to make your decisions for you if you are unable to do so on your own.

This should serve as a reminder of the importance of providing and updating emergency contacts wherever possible, especially with the hospital or clinic where you receive care. Keep in mind that the person you have listed as your emergency contact may not be the same person you have listed as your agent on your Health Care Directive. Strongly consider filing your Health Care Directive directly with your provider so that they already have it on file if needed.

The health care directive that your emergency contact delivers to the provider will also include what powers the agent has, such as what the agent can make decisions for and when. Health Care Directives can give instructions that are very broad or contain language that is very specific; a directive may be drafted to give an agent broad decision making powers in unforeseeable circumstances and may also provide very specific instructions pertaining to existing health conditions, preferred treatments, allergies, etc.

Your Health Care Directive does not just describe preferences for treatments; it can also include instructions for end of life care, providing much-needed guidance to your agent about your thoughts and values in determining when it is time to handle end-of-life issues.

Working with a qualified Estate Planning attorney is the best way to create a Health Care Directive that will let the right person make decisions for you.  A well-crafted Directive will also guide your agent in making the decision that you would have made for yourself.  Providing strong guidance also relieves your agent of the burden of making extremely difficult decisions.


Like all aspects of your estate plan, the right time is now. Contact us for a free consultation; we make difficult things easier.