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The basics to an advance directive in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, you have the right to make decisions concerning your personal end-of-life medical treatment decisions. However, what if you cannot make this decision? What if you are in an accident and left in a physical or mental condition which limits your ability to actively make a choice?

The good news is that if you are incapacitated or unable to make end-of-life health care decisions on your own, you can address your wishes through the preparation, prior to the emergency, of n advance directive.

This legal document informs others about what you would prefer in terms of treatment if you were to become incapable of expressing such wishes and appoints a health care agent to act on your behalf. This document is also known as a living will. This device comes into play when the following circumstances are present:

  • You have created a valid living will, and your medical care provider has a copy of this document.
  • You are confirmed to be “incapacitated , in an end-stage medical or permanently unconscious, such as in a persistent vegetative state “

Your personal physician will assess whether you are medically incapacitated, that is that you lack the capacity to understand, make or communicate treatment decisions.

An advance directive is not valid unless it is signed. If this is not possible, someone must sign it for you. Moreover, the legal document should be created in the presence of two adult witnesses. They, too, must sign the living will. However, the witnesses cannot be a person who signed the living will on your behalf. Moreover, the document should also be dated for housekeeping purposes. It is also a good idea to have the living will notarized.

You can revoke the document at any time. To do so, just inform your health care provider of you desire not to use the document. However, this should be done as soon as possible. Once you are incapacitated, you will not be able to relay further wishes, and the document will end up governing end-of-life medical decisions on your behalf.

Ultimately, the purpose of the advance directive is to help maintain dominion and control over end-of-life medical choices. In a state of permanent unconsciousness, there will be no way to express specific choices. Also, some medical situations present complex options. You can make your health care provider’s and family’s jobs easier by indicating your preferences for end-of-life treatment in an advance directive. This legal tool serves as a safety net for those who want the final say.

If you would like to learn more about living wills other life planning tools, take the time to speak with a qualified health care law attorney in your area. A professional lawyer can help ensure that your wishes are in place.

Carol Sikov Gross is a member
of the National Academy of
Elder Law Attorneys

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