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Advance healthcare decisions now much easier to make

Aging with dignity and having wishes carried out in all healthcare and end-of-life decisions is the way most people want to organize their affairs. Advance directives make that possible.

Since 1998, Mississippians have had a uniform healthcare decisions act that provides the legal mechanism for adults or emancipated minors to provide oral or written instructions as an advance healthcare directive.

Simply put, Ben Windham with Watkins, Ludlam, Winter and Stennis law firm said the state recognizes four legal documents for this purpose.

“They are a living will, power of attorney for healthcare that’s used in conjunction with that, individual instructions and an advance healthcare directive,” he said. “The statute that’s been in effect since 1998 incorporates these into one advanced healthcare directive.”

Individual instructions can be written on a piece of paper but must have a proven agent appointed. These remain valid if they were executed properly. A living will can express wishes concerning health issues such as life support and artificial nutrition.

“It’s better to keep up with one document,” Windham said. “The directive is easy to do; just fill in the blanks. You can put in different language and the first thing you put in is an agent — a family member or someone you trust. It’s available at hospitals and with hospice organizations and on the state board of health’s Web site.”

Rick Barry with Bourdeaux and Jones law firm in Meridian said that just as everyone should have a last will and testament, they should also have a power of attorney for healthcare purposes.

“That would appoint the appropriate person to make decisions in case the individual is incapacitated and/or incapable of making their own decisions,” he said. “I think circumstances dictate who should have a general durable power of attorney. Once this document is executed, certainly it is for a time that you are incapacitated. The attorney that you appoint is certainly someone you need to trust to take care of your assets during your period of incapacitation.”

Barry Jones with Wise Carter Child & Caraway law firm in Jackson says capacity is defined under the state act as the ability to understand the significant benefits, risks and alternatives to proposed healthcare treatment and to make and communicate a heath care decision.

“The power of attorney for healthcare must be in witting and be dated and signed by the principal,” he said. “Two methods are provided for the witnessing of this document.”

Also, the designation of an agent in a power of attorney for healthcare may be revoked by a signed writing executed by the principal or by the principal personally informing the supervising healthcare provider.

“The principal may revoke all or any part of an advance healthcare directive, other than the designation of an agent, at any time and in any manner that communicates an intent to revoke,” Jones said.

Although many people are still not aware of it, the advance healthcare directive is the most popular document to use now, according to Windham. Part of that is the ease of executing it.

“It’s so easy. You don’t need an attorney to do it,” he said, “and you don’t have to follow the exact form. You can write one and make it the way you want it — customize it.”

He said everyone should have one and believes the best ones in Mississippi are just two documents, a living will and advance healthcare directive.

Barry agreed. “There should be more people using them,” he said. “Only in special circumstances do you actually see people requesting a general durable power of attorney.”

The attorneys said the healthcare decisions act ,which provides an easy form for expressing advance directives, simplifies the process. “The uniform healthcare decisions act thus preserves prior documents for those who are now unable to change them while providing even more flexibility in making advance directions involving matters of healthcare,” Jones said.

To download the form for advance directives, visit http://www.health.msstate.edu/forms/.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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