During our Caring Conversations around the state, one of the topics that invite lots of comments is Advanced Directives. No matter the age or professional make up of the audience, everyone has questions and interesting stories to tell. Commonly, someone expresses that he or she is too young to worry about these. Just as often, someone else has completed their directives, but not shared the information with their prospective medical agent.
Advance Directives are the documents which enable others to act on our behalf in medical situations when we cannot speak for ourselves. Although there is some confusion about them, their purpose and form are really very straight forward:
Vermont Advance Directive for Health Care enables you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions for you. It also provides guidance so that person can act in a manner consistent with your wishes for care, organ donation and funeral arrangements.
Durable General Power of Attorney for Finances is the only document that needs the participation of an attorney. That is because it appoints a person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.
HIPAA Medical Release, because of your rights to privacy, you need to designate those you want to have access to your medical information, should you be incapacitated.
All these forms can be downloaded from the Health Department’s website, healthvermont.gov/vadr/index.aspx. If you don’t go on line, the Health Dept.’s number is 802-863-7300.
The Health Dept. is also the home of Vermont’s Advance Directive Registry. This is new service which makes your Directives available on a need-to-know basis to health professionals. In an emergency situation, having your information available through the Registry is critical to ensuring your wishes are carried out. Unfortunately, of the estimated 150,000 Vermonters who have Advanced Directives, only about 200 have utilized the registry.
Finally, it is important to review and update your Directives every few years or after significant changes in your life. Laws change and so do you. During one of my talks a person acknowledged that, although he was recently remarried, his ex-wife was still designated to act as his medical agent.
Aging in Place, it doesn’t happen by accident. You need to do the paperwork.