The MLO Minute: By, Jennifer Simons, Esq.
During the current COVID-19 crisis many of us are experiencing anxiety related to the fear of contracting this potentially life-threatening virus. Many times, anxiety can be eased by putting a plan into place should the unthinkable happen and you become seriously ill. Two important documents that every adult should have in place, especially in light of the current pandemic, are a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will, sometimes referred to as an Advance Medical Directive. By executing a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will, you appoint an individual to act on your behalf to make healthcare decisions or end-of-life decisions for you, if you are not competent to do so on your own. These two documents may executed as two separate documents or in a combined form.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document in which an individual appoints another person to make healthcare decisions on his/her behalf if the individual is not competent to make these decisions for his/herself. Such decisions can include approval or disapproval for diagnostic tests, surgical procedures, medications, etc. This document also allows the Healthcare Power of Attorney agent to speak with doctors on your behalf and have access to your medical information. A Healthcare Power of Attorney agent can also authorize admission to a medical, nursing, residential or similar facility and authorize your agent to enter into agreements for your care, including hospice care.
A Living Will or Advance Medical Directive is a document that only becomes effective when an individual is incompetent and is also in a state of permanent unconsciousness or an end-stage medical condition. An end-stage medical condition is defined as:
“one in which an incurable and irreversible medical condition in an advanced state caused by injury, disease or physical illness that will, in the opinion of the attending physician to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, result in death, despite the introduction or continuation of medical treatment. Except as specifically set forth in an advance health care directive, the term is not intended to preclude treatment of a disease, illness or physical, mental, cognitive or intellectual condition, even if incurable and irreversible and regardless of severity, if both of the following apply:
(1) The patient would benefit from the medical treatment, including palliative care.
(2) Such treatment would not merely prolong the process of dying.” 20 Pa.C.S. §5422.
By executing a Living Will you are not precluding medical treatment when it would save your life, but only when there is a reasonable certainty by a medical professional that the treatment would be futile or only serve to prolong your life. By communicating in advance which types of treatment you would want in an end-of-life situation you are also relieving your loved ones of having to make these decisions for you. It can be very painful for family members to make these types of decisions, especially if they are not aware of your preferences for treatment. This document also allows you to choose whom you want to make these decisions, which will otherwise be made according to the Pennsylvania Healthcare Statute, which provides for a priority order (spouse, child, parent…) when no such individual has been appointed.
Both a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will do not need to be signed in front of a Notary in Pennsylvania, but only require that two adults witness the execution of the document. Therefore, both documents can be prepared in our office and then be sent to you to sign at home, if you have two adults in your home who can serve as witnesses. If you do not have two individuals at home, our office can arrange to witness the signing of the documents safely and with no contact. If you wish to create a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, or any other Estate Planning documents, please contact McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan, P.C. at 610-648-9300.