As a Florida case brings our attention to end-of-life decisions, Iowa’s lawyers offer help for people who’ve decided what they would want if an accident, illness or old age renders them helpless. Sally Reavely is an attorney specializing in healthcare providers and clients with health issues, and she says there are actually two documents you should complete, to make sure your wishes are carried out. A Living Will is a directive to your doctor that you don’t want any “extraordinary” measures taken to prolong your life when you’re in a terminal condition or irreversible coma. The other form is for other cases besides those particular medical situations. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is where you appoint some other person, an “agent” to act on your behalf when you can’t make a decision. As an example she suggests a person undergoing surgery — while they’re under the anesthesia on the operating table, doctors find they need to do some additional procedure, and can ask the “agent” for the OK to go ahead. The only time that would be in effect is during the time when the patient’s unable to make those decisions, and she says the power can be temporary and limited, as in a bad crash where the patient’s incapacitated only for a time. She suggests clients consider having both documents filled out and filed before they’re ever needed. Reavely says neither living wills and healthcare power of attorney will take any control away from you, the patient, while you’re aware and able to make your own wishes known. When you can’t make decisions, they give that authority to someone you’ve chosen, talked with and told what you’d want. You can also use the forms as a basis for writing your own healthcare directive, just the way you want, and even get a lawyer to help with it. If one’s in a vegetative state they may not want the “plug pulled”…but after 12 months if they’re still in that condition they’d want a different choice made. That can be done with the healthcare power of attorney, she says; “You can specify anything you want.” If you don’t have anything written down, the law will determine who makes your vital decisions if you’re incapacitated. A court-appointed guardian is first in line, if there is one. Barring that, the decision maker under law is the patient’s spouse. If there’s no spouse the next choice is an adult child — and if there’s more than one, a majority can make a decision. If there aren’t any, next in line are parents of the patient, after that an adult sibling. If there are none of those, she says, “You’re gonna be in court.” That’s why she says it may be a good idea to talk to an attorney. But the forms are offered on the Iowa Bar Association’s website, for any computer user to read, download, print and use with no further legal help. It’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer about this, but you don’t have to. Reavely says the living will documents “can be totally valid” without any help from an attorney, long as you follow the form and get it notarized or witnessed. Forms for the living will and healthcare power of attorney are at a clickable link labeled “forms. on the website of the Iowa bar Association. Surf to www.iowabar-dot-org.
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