The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to confront their mortality, and their health care directives, in a more serious way than they ever have before. The serious health outcomes associated with the virus can include life-threatening respiratory conditions, long-term stays in hospitals and incapacitation.
Given the threat the virus poses, there has never been a better time to update or establish a living will and other important healthcare directives.
What is a living will?
A living will is a type of estate planning document that serves as a written record of your personal wishes regarding certain types of medical care. In the document, you can specify the kinds of medical care you do or do not want to receive in certain circumstances. The purpose is to have your wishes on file in the event you become incapacitated and unable to speak on your own behalf.
A living will is best used in conjunction with a health care proxy, referred to in some states as a durable power of attorney for health care. This document allows you to name a chosen agent who communicates with doctors on your behalf if you are unable to do so. They will also make decisions about your healthcare based on instructions you leave in your living will or other advance directives or estate planning documents.
Issues to consider with your health care directives during the pandemic
It’s always important to be as comprehensive as possible with your advance directives, but there are some issues you will need to pay particular attention to during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example:
- Communication with doctors: Your healthcare agent will need to be able to communicate with your doctors. In-person conversations may be tricky while there are restrictions on who can enter hospitals. You should make sure your documents allow for communication via phone, email or video conference so these important conversations can happen despite social distancing requirements.
- Coronavirus-specific treatment wishes: Treatment for the novel coronavirus may require the use of a ventilator, which involves providing oxygen to the patient through a tube. If you already have an advance directive stating you do not wish to be intubated, you should amend your document to provide an exception for the coronavirus. In treatment for the virus, intubation may be necessary in some cases even when the outlook for the patient is good.
- Witnesses: Some documents require signature by witnesses or a notary public, but getting those signatures may be difficult while social distancing. First, it is important to note that if healthcare providers have clear evidence of your wishes, they are required to follow through with those wishes, even if your documents are not properly witnessed or notified. So having your wishes in writing, even if you can’t get the signatures you need, is still important. But it may also be possible for you to have forms faxed or e-signed.
For more information about developing a health care proxy, living will and advance directives during the pandemic, contact us today at Baker Law Group. View attorney profiles.
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