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Planning for future medical care


Individuals may face the day that they must rely on others to make medical decisions for them when they no longer have this ability. Washington has several legal requirements governing health care directives or durable powers of attorney for health care. These advance directives are the best option for assuring that the medical treatment one receives reflects their wishes when that person is unable to express them.

A health care directive, known as a living will, contains instructions addressing what should be done in the event a patient is afflicted with a terminal illness and life-sustaining treatment would only artificially extend the dying process. A living will also governs situations where two physicians certify that a patient is in an irreversible coma or another permanent unconscious condition and recovery is not likely.

In these directives, a person may direct the withholding of medical care and other instructions. These documents may also contain directives on withholding artificially-provided food and water under specific circumstances. These directives can be changed or revised at any time.

A durable health care power of attorney is another document that designates a trusted person to serve as a health care agent to agree to, stop or refuse medical treatment when a physician determines that the patient cannot make these decisions.

Execution of these documents must take place before two witnesses or be notarized by a notary public. Witnesses must have the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions under the document, cannot be home providers for the person or provide care at an adult family home or long-term facility where that person resides, and cannot be related to the health care agent. However, physicians and staff may be able to serve as witnesses if they work at a medical clinic, hospital or other non-residential facility.

A person should execute both documents to assure the greatest flexibility by designating an agent to respond to quickly-changing medical conditions or assuring that instructions are followed when an agent is unable to serve. An attorney can help with this long term care planning and ensure that these documents properly reflect the patient's wishes.

Source: Washington State Medical Association, "Advanced Directives," Accessed March 6, 2017

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To speak with an attorney at Gellner Law Group about estate planning, probate, trusts, wills or tax controversy, contact our law office in Kent, Washington, today. You can call 425-336-2908 or send us an email. We provide representation across the entire Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area.

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