Healthcare Decision planning is an essential part of the estate planning process. A written statement that directs and anticipates the provision of health care for an individual is an advanced directive. The term advanced directive includes a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. A Living Will describes an individual’s wishes for healthcare to be provided or withheld if in a terminal or vegetative condition. A Healthcare Power of Attorney identifies an agent who is authorized to make healthcare decisions for an individual. These are legal documents that everyone should have. Advanced directives generally do not define specific treatment scenarios based on specific diseases or ailments. Rather, they inform healthcare professionals generally as to what types of treatment a patient may or may not want. The importance of making healthcare decisions before a medical crisis cannot be overstated.
Last year, in an effort to ensure patients’ treatment wishes are followed, the Arkansas legislature passed a law that provides for use of a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST). A POLST is a standardized form that is easily identifiable by your healthcare provider and in an emergency situation will help ensure your wishes are followed. This is a medical order, not a legal document. It turns treatment preferences documented in an advance directive into actionable medical orders to be followed in emergencies. It must be signed by the patient (or the patient’s healthcare agent) and the physician and directs medical providers what to do in specific situations. This form can only be used for patients with serious illness or medical frailty when a physician would not be surprised if the patient died within one year.
It is important to note that a POLST compliments advanced directives, but it is not a substitute for a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare or a Living Will. While all adults should have advanced directives in place, not everyone needs a POLST. If you sign a POLST, let your attorney know so as to ensure that the POLST does not conflict with your legal healthcare documents.
Ashley Naramore is an attorney focusing in estate planning and administration in western Arkansas. Ms. Naramore has offices in Hot Springs (Garland County) and Hot Springs Village (Saline County), Arkansas.