Does Everyone Need Advance Health Care Directives?

By Adil Daudi

Answer:  Yes. 

Everyone should have advance directives in their estate plan.  Advance directives describe your specific treatment preferences in end-of-life situations when you are not in a position to decide for yourself.  One type of advance directive is a living will.  This document leaves written instructions for your medical care.  Another advance directive – the health care power of attorney – authorizes someone else to speak for you if you become incapacitated.  These, and other documents, put you in control of what can often be complex and problematic situations. 

Reasonably, individuals and their families may have concerns about the effect of advance directives.  This article addresses two of the most common concerns and offers practical solutions:

(1)    Will Advance Directives Fully Address My Needs and Desires?

Many people may have concern that advance directives are too vague to cover every possible scenario they may face.  Typically, these documents, if not done professionally, can be vague and contain too much gray area for health care providers and families to make informed decisions for an individual. 

One way to get over the vagueness in advance directives is to customize your living will.  Merely having a document may not solve the problem – they often do not spell it all out.  Laura Johannes wrote in the Wall Street Journal that allowing for more flexibility and nuance in your living will may be the answer.  

Maybe your current living will only addresses a few black and white situations but doesn’t address complex, real-life decisions that may have to be made by doctors and family members.  Make sure you clarify your religious observances in your living will.  Make sure that your living will is consistent with your personal wishes.   Another way to improve your living wills is to appoint a trusted family member or friend to act as your agent with a health care power of attorney.  Get someone to speak for you.  Health care powers of attorney have become increasingly more important because of potential conflicts between relatives.  Health care agents can make decisions on your behalf if you living will does clearly state what you would have wanted. 

To further resolve this issue, talk to your family, doctors, and lawyers, to ensure that your advance directives reflect your wishes.  Family members can provide insight and these conversations help them better understand your wishes.  Doctors can address specific questions you may have about your health.  And lawyers can ensure the documents are clear and properly written.  These conversations can help people and families to use advance directives more wisely. 

Rely on both a living will and a health care power of attorney if you are concerned your needs may not be met during medical care.   Agreements between your doctors and families will be much easier when properly written advance directives are in place. 

(2)    Will My Advance Directives Be Susceptible to Outside Influences Now or in the Future?

People change.  Society changes.  Health care treatments change.  These normal life changes raise concerns with individuals over whether their interests will be maintained in serious situations.  As long as you are competent, only you can consent to or refuse medical treatment.  However, there may be instances where decisions must be made when you are not in a position to make them.

Of some comfort is that health care providers must abide by a code of ethics – they have to make the best possible decision in every case.  Also of some relief is that advance directives are legally enforceable –as long as your advance directives are clear and properly written, the instructions in them must be followed. 

New information may come along, new medical treatments may be introduced, and your specific inclinations may change.  To put your mind at ease, make sure you review your advance directives every couple of years or less.  Both living wills and health care powers of attorney should be executed to ensure your end-of-life needs and desires will be met.  Be sure to identify your needs and lay them out clearly for those in a position to help you. 

Adil Daudi is an Attorney at JKY Legal Group, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Shariah Estate Planning, Health Care Law, Business Litigation, and Corporate Formations. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at or (517) 381-2663.


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