Navigating the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care: Part 1

Summary: An Advance Directive for Health Care, also known as a Living Will, is a document that memorializes your wishes concerning medical care if you are incapacitated, as well as your end of life wishes. You can also designate a health care agent in your Advance Directive. Siedentopf Law walks you through the different sections of the document in this two-part blog series.

A couple of weeks ago I was re-watching The Mummy with my husband.  Ancient Egyptian burial practices are a heavy theme in the movie.  About five minutes from the end of the film, I found myself hitting the “pause” button, as I started talking to my husband about our end of life preferences.  This reminded me, I have been meaning to write a blog post on the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care because I feel so strongly about it.

Every adult in the state of Georgia should fill out an advance directive.  The “advance directive” is Georgia’s name for what many other states refer to as a “living will.”  The documents memorialize your decisions about 1) your end of life wishes and 2) your medical care during times when you may not be able to express your wishes.  The advance directive also designates a health care agent, who is entrusted to make medical decisions for you, if you are not physically able to.

One of the advantages of Georgia’s advance directive is that filling out the paperwork does not require a visit to an attorney.  These are statutory forms, which means that the Georgia legislature has passed a law regarding advance directives and has included a suggested form.  It is as easy as searching for the forms online, printing them out, and filling them out at home.  As of this writing, HERE is the most current version of the advance directive.  You will need two witnesses to complete the paperwork.  A notary is not required.

While you can complete Georgia’s advance directive paperwork yourself, the documents can at times be confusing.  You may want to consult someone about it.  Here are a few insights about the individual sections:

     Part One deals with selecting a Health Care Agent.  This health care agent is the one who will be making decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.  This is an incredibly important thing to have in place, particularly because unmarried adults aged 18 and older do not have automatic health care agents.  For parents, the moment your child turns 18, you no longer have authority to make decisions on his or her behalf.  For those who are married, your spouse has the right to make these decisions—unless you designate someone different.  In the case of an estranged spouse, or one that does not share your medical treatment philosophy, it may be beneficial to nominate someone different.  Additionally, people may name a secondary health care agent, just in case the primary one cannot be reached.  There is a “statement of the health care agent’s powers” in Part One and some options for limiting the powers, but the important part is to have someone in place in case of an emergency.

     Part Two deals with treatment preferences.  This gives the medical professionals guidance about your desires – even if your agent cannot be reached.  It also gives your agent confidence about making the right decisions on your behalf.

Under Part Two, “Item 6” tends to confuse people.  It addresses when you want your medical decisions to apply.  (Selections about the use of life-saving measures comes later in the form).  For Item 6, there are two places to initial, and you can initial both to make both of them apply.  The first reads that Part Two will be effective if you are in “A terminal condition, which means [you] have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in [your] death in a relatively short period of time.”  I tell people to think about this as incurable cancer.  You may be delirious with pain and unable to communicate your wishes, but you are dying no matter what treatment choices the doctor’s make.  The second option is that your choices in Part Two will be effective if you are in “A state of permanent unconsciousness, which means [you are] not aware of [yourself] or [your] environment and [you] show no behavioral response to [your] environment.”  For this option, I tell clients to imagine a car accident and subsequent coma.  The doctors cannot wake you up and do not know if you ever will wake up, but you can continue indefinitely in your coma state.  If you want your choices to apply in both situations, you will initial both places. If you only want your decisions to apply in one of the situations, you only initial that one.  Most clients I deal with end up initialing both sections if they are confident in their treatment choices.

Item 7 deals with actual treatment preferences.  I will tackle those in my next post.  Thanks for hanging in there to discuss a difficult topic.

To see the second blog in this series click HERE.

© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and EstateLawAtlanta.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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