Advance Directives – Lifetime Planning for Incapacity

Your Right to Decide

Every competent adult has the right to make decisions concerning his or her own health, including the right to choose or refuse medical treatment.

Lifetime Planning for Incapacity

When a person becomes unable to make decisions due to a physical or mental change, such as being in a coma or developing dementia (like Alzheimer’s disease), they are considered incapacitated.  To make sure that an incapacitated person’s decisions about health care will still be respected, Florida’s legislature enacted laws recognizing health care advance directives.  The law recognizes the right of a competent adult to make an advance directive instructing his or her physician to provide, withhold, or withdraw life-prolonging procedures; to designate another individual to make treatment decisions if the person becomes unable to make his or her own decisions; and/or to indicate the desire to make an anatomical donation after death.

Questions About Health Care Advance Directives

What is an advance directive?

It is a written or oral statement about how you want medical decisions made should you not be able to make them yourself and/or it can express your wish to make an anatomical donation after death.  Although some people make advance directives when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, many of our clients put their wishes into writing while they are healthy as part of their estate planning.

Three types of advance directives are:
A Living Will
A Health Care Surrogate Designation
An Anatomical Donation

What is a living will?

A “living will” is a written or oral statement of the kind of medical care you want or do not want if you become unable to make your own decisions.  It is called a living will because it takes effect while you are still living.  Living wills are often done at the same time as other estate planning documents.

Click here for a living will form produced and distributed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

What is a health care surrogate designation?

A “health care surrogate designation” is a legal document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself.  You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will.  You can also designate an alternate person to act as your  surrogate.

Click here for a health care surrogate form produced and distributed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

What is an anatomical donation?

An “anatomical donation” or “anatomical gift” is a document that indicates your wish to donate, at death, all or part of your body.  This can be an organ and tissue donation to persons in need, or donation of your body for training of health care workers.  You can indicate your choice to be an organ donor by designating it on your driver’s license or state identification card (at your nearest driver’s license office), signing a uniform donor form, or expressing your wish in a living will.

Click here to obtain a Uniform Donor Form produced and distributed by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Am I required to have an advance directive under Florida law?

No, there is no legal requirement to complete an advance directive. However, if you have not made an advance directive, decisions about your health care or an anatomical donation may be made for you by a court-appointed guardian, your wife or husband, your adult child, your parent, your adult sibling, an adult relative, or a close friend.

The person making decisions for you may or may not be aware of your wishes.  When you make an advance directive, and discuss it with the significant people in your life, it will better assure that your wishes will be carried out the way you want.

Can I change my mind after I sign an advance directive?

Yes, you may change or cancel an advance directive at any time. Any changes should be written, signed and dated.  However, you can also change an advance directive by oral statement; physical destruction of the advance directive; or by writing a new advance directive.

If your driver’s license or state identification card indicates you are an organ donor, but you no longer want this designation, contact the nearest driver’s license office to cancel the donor designation and a new license or card will be issued to you.

What if I have filled out an advance directive in another state and need treatment in Florida?

An advance directive completed in another state, as described in that state’s law, can be honored in Florida.

What should I do with my advance directive?

If you designate a health care surrogate and an alternate surrogate be sure to ask them if they agree to take this responsibility, discuss how you would like matters handled, and give them a copy of the document.
Make sure that your health care provider, attorney, and the significant persons in your life know that you have an advance directive and where it is located.  You also may want to give them a copy.
You should keep your advance directives in a safe place along with your other important paperwork.  If you put the originals in a bank safety deposit box, you may want to keep copies at your house.  You may want to keep a card or note in your purse or wallet stating that you have an advance directive and indicating its location.
If you change your advance directive, make sure your health care provider, attorney and the significant persons in your life have a copy of the most recent version.

If you have questions about your advance directive you may want to discuss these with your health care provider, attorney, or the significant persons in your life.

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