Someone filling out an advance healthcare directive.

What is an Advance Directive?

By Chris Tymchuck
Founding Attorney

An advance directive is an important part of an estate plan although it is much less discussed than other legal tools. There tends to be a focus on wills and other instruments that are used to distribute a person’s assets and property and advance directives do not do this. Instead, advance directives are critical parts of incapacity planning and can be put in place during the estate planning process. Let’s take a closer look at advance directives and what can be accomplished by having them as part of your estate plan.

What is an Advance Directive?

An advance directive also referred to as a health care directive, is a legal tool that is used to guide health care decisions when an individual has become incapacitated and is unable to communicate these decisions for himself or herself. There are different types of advance directives, including a living will and durable power of attorney for health care. Usually, in Minnesota, a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care are all included into a single, multi-part health care directive.

A standard Minnesota health care directive, or advance directive, will include who you want to name as your health care agent, a section specifying treatment preferences as well as care instructions, and a HIPAA waiver that grants your health care agent access to your medical records. With all of this in place, you can make your medical care preferences known, particularly as they relate to terminal, end of life care, as well as who you want to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that incapacitation renders you unable to communicate these important matters for yourself.

Think of the power of an advance directive. It gives you control over who will make important health care decisions on your behalf. It allows you to communicate your treatment preferences. It helps prevent putting your loved ones in the difficult position of guessing at your wishes should the need arise. Furthermore, it can help your family avoid time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive guardianship proceedings which may be necessary should you become incapacitated and have no document in place granting someone else authority to act on your behalf, such is what happens when you establish a durable power of attorney for health care.

There are many important decisions you will have to make prior to establishing your health care directive. One being who you will name as your health care agent. There are not many limits on who you can select for this role of great responsibility. You cannot appoint someone who is tasked with determining whether you are incapacitated and you cannot appoint your physician unless there is some familial relationship there either by blood, marriage, or adoption, unless you specify your decision in your health care directive and state your reasons for doing so. Your agent must be at least 18 years of age and, while not usually advisable, you can appoint joint agents. Think about who you trust to make difficult decisions on your behalf. Someone who knows your wishes and will put your own wishes above any of your loved ones that may conflict with them. Your agent may need to make very tough choices under very tough circumstances. Choose someone steadfast.

Minnesota Trusts, Probate, and Estate Planning Attorney

The time to put a comprehensive estate plan in place, including an advance directive, is now. Unique Estate Law is here to help. Contact us today.

About the Author
As a Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate attorney I help build and protect families through the adoption, estate planning, and probate processes. I also have experience working with families on issues related to their small businesses. I know how difficult it is to find time to plan for the future and I am here to help walk you through it.