Advance Directives About Medical Care, Part 1: Terminology

Words are highly important at any stage of life. At the extremes, they can sow the seeds of love or fan the flames of hate. But the meaning of language can be elusive, and struggling to understand others comes with the territory of being human.

Words are of course also crucial in the business world, as we discussed in our last post in the context of construction contracts.

In this two-part post, we will seek to explain the estate planning language used in Michigan concerning medical care decisions. The terminology can be tricky because terms like "living will" and "health care proxy" are often tossed around without appropriate explanation of their meanings.

First of all, the more formal term for "health care proxy" is durable power of attorney for health care. Another term for this in Michigan is "patient advocate designation."

This is a type of advance directive that is intended to specify who should make medical decisions for you if you were to become unable to make those decisions on your own behalf.

A living will is also a type of advance directive. It addresses the question of the type of treatment you wish to receive if you lose the capacity to make medical decisions for yourself.

In an age of ever-expanding technology that can prolong life-support functions at great cost, setting out treatment guidelines through a living will is obviously a very real concern.

In addition to a living will and a health care proxy, it is also possible to have a do-not-resuscitate declaration.

And finally, we should note that a declaration of anatomical gift can also be part of the estate-planning process. But unlike the advance directives we have discussed, a declaration of anatomical gift only takes effect upon death.

In part two of this post, we will discuss some of the factors to be weighted in making decisions about advance directives.

Source: Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, "Advance Directives: Planning for Medical Care," Accessed April 8, 2014

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