Estate planning and healthcare directives may not be the most pleasant topic to ponder, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most critical steps you can take to safeguard your family’s future. 

While comprehensive estate planning encompasses various aspects of your financial legacy, it also delves into the realm of your well-being. In the unfortunate event of a critical illness, accident, or medical emergency, having advance healthcare directives in place can make all the difference

These documents ensure that your medical wishes are respected and followed when you cannot articulate them yourself. They also spare your loved ones from uncertainty and guilt when it comes to making complex, life-altering decisions.

Let’s take a closer look at this crucial element of your estate plan, what they cover, and how to start the conversation with your relatives and an experienced estate planning attorney.

Understanding Advance Directives

According to the National Institute on Aging and the US Department of Health and Human Services, advance directives are “legal documents that provide instructions for medical care and only go into effect if you cannot communicate your own wishes.” 

Illinois state law allows four types of advance directives: 

  • A living will is a concise legal document where you can provide medical directives and express your end-of-life wishes.
  • Powers of attorney (POAs) enable you to appoint someone to make decisions and manage your affairs on your behalf, should you become incapacitated. There are different types, including those for property and healthcare.
  • Mental health treatment declarations allow you to outline your preferences or instructions regarding mental health treatment, including consent or refusal of specific treatments.
  • Practitioner Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) let you enshrine your preferences such as limits on medical interventions, antibiotics, IV fluids, feeding tubes, and more. Specific DNR (do not resuscitate) orders typically require the signature of your doctor to be valid

Failing to plan ahead for end-of-life treatment or unexpected incapacitation creates unintended consequences. Imagine a scenario where a relative you wouldn’t have chosen becomes your healthcare surrogate. This situation can lead to disagreements, conflicts, and immense strain within your family.

Now, let’s dive deeper into each type of advance directive, exploring what they entail, their capabilities and limitations, and other considerations to discuss with your family law advocate.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) grants someone you trust the authority to make decisions on your behalf, either regarding property and finances or medical care. 

Your chosen agent must adhere to the specific instructions you provide, and you can make the scope of authority adjustable according to your preferences. 

One critical aspect to discuss with your lawyer when creating a power of attorney is whether it’s durable. A durable POA goes into effect immediately or upon the permanent or temporary loss of decision-making capacity, ensuring that your medical needs are met in emergency situations.

Living Will

It’s essential to articulate your preferences regarding death-delaying procedures, especially if you have certain strongly held religious beliefs. In Illinois, you have the fundamental right to control decisions related to your medical care, even when you’re unable to participate actively. 

You can specify which end-of-life procedures you want or don’t want, but there are certain limitations; for example, you cannot request the withdrawal of life-sustaining food and water. In addition, if you are pregnant and your doctor states a live birth is possible, your living will cannot be honored until the baby is born.

This vital legal document complements your healthcare power of attorney but supersedes it if your agent is unavailable or seeks guidance from healthcare providers.

Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration

Under the Illinois Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration Act, adults of sound mind can make declarations about their preferences in this area, including consent to or refusal of specific treatments. 

Also known as psychiatric advance directives (PADs), they include decisions about procedures like electroconvulsive therapy and admission to mental health facilities. Your specified attorney-in-fact must adhere to your expressed desires unless the court orders differently or an emergency threatens your life or health.

The completed mental health treatment preference declaration is valid for three years and requires two witnesses.

Do-Not-Resuscitate Order/ Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment

Illinois recognizes your right to make decisions about medical treatment, including the right to forgo life-sustaining treatment. DNRs or POLST orders allow you to state your preferences for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other life-sustaining acts or instruct healthcare providers to allow natural death and avoid interventions to prolong life.

In Illinois, the Uniform DNR/POLST form combines a DNR with overall orders for emergency treatment. You can choose preferences such as limits on medical interventions, antibiotics, IV fluids, feeding tubes, and more. 

Getting Started

Planning for the unknown can be daunting, but you don’t have to go through it alone. The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, founded in 2009, is here to help you and your loved ones successfully navigate these difficult conversations. 

Our team of compassionate advocates has over 20 years of experience with the complexities of incapacity planning and family law, including advance directives like powers of attorney and living wills.

Every person’s situation is unique, and our skilled attorneys will work with you to meet your goals efficiently and effectively, offering both compassion and meaningful guidance.

If you have questions about advance directives or want to initiate the estate planning process, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a consultation. Your family’s future well-being and peace of mind are worth making the effort today!