At the ElderCare Law Firm Inc. we believe there are three pillars to good health care planning. These pillars are authority, instructions, and access.

Pillar I: Authority
As of January 1, 2008, Utah has a new standard “Advance Directive for Health Care.” If you have health care documents that were prepared prior to January 1, 2008, they should be updated.

An Advance Directive for Health Care is used to appoint someone (your agent) to make decisions for you regarding your health care in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. This document also contains limited instructions regarding the care you should or should not receive when you can no longer give instructions for yourself. Many times this document is given to clients to fill out by hospitals, nursing homes, or other care personnel. We advise caution in filling out these documents without expert guidance, as the documents can be confusing and it is often a matter of life and death.

Another critical element of authority in health care planning is granting certain trusted people in your life the ability to obtain confidential medical information about you. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 created protections for personal health information. Your Advance Directive for Health Care can allow your agent to access your medical information, but if you want others to also have access you will need to execute a special HIPAA Release on their behalf.

Pillar II: Instructions
Many people underestimate the complexity of healthcare decision-making. We often hear clients summarize their desires by saying, “I don’t want to be put on machines.” However, it may not be that simple. There are so many different healthcare scenarios that you could encounter. Each situation has its own unique aspects and will require an analysis of what treatments are available, how costly they are, what pain or suffering may be involved, what is the probability of recovery, how complete will the recovery be, and how will remaining deficiencies affect your quality of life after recovery.

The person you choose as your health care agent needs guidance from you. Not giving that guidance can put your agent in a difficult position. Poor instructions may cause your agent to feel bad no matter what they choose to do. If they keep you alive, they feel like they are torturing you. If they take you off life support, they feel as if they are causing your death. Poor instructions will also increase the risk of family conflict and the chance that your agent will make a decision other than what you would have wanted.

At the ElderCare Law Firm Inc., we provide clients with a tool that helps them get specific and practical about their health care preferences. This tool also helps our clients document their preferences, so that if they are incapacitated, their agent has something to guide them to the right result.

Pillar III: Access
You may have the best health care planning in the world, but if it is not available in a crisis, it fails. The problem is, once you have completed the first two pillars of good health care planning, there will be more pages than you will want to carry around in your purse or wallet. At the ElderCare Law Firm Inc., we solve this problem by providing all clients who are members of our Legacy Membership Service (link) a free annual subscription to Docubank, where their critical health care documents can be safely stored and accessed by agents and medical professionals.