In Georgia, people automatically equate estate planning with creating a will or trust. This is understandable since these are key aspects of many estate plans. However, there are other issues that can be addressed with an estate plan, such as health care decisions. This is where an advance directive comes in.
The advance directive is a document that gives another person – the agent – the right to make decisions for another person – known as the principal. It goes into effect if the principal is incapacitated. Given its gravity, it is imperative for everyone involved to understand the health care agent’s role under the law and what they can and cannot do.
Understanding the obligations under an advance directive
The health care agent is only able to make decisions in the principal’s stead if the principal can no longer make those decisions on their own. If, for example, they have suffered a stroke and are unable to communicate, it will be left to the health care agent to consult with the medical professionals as to the treatments that will be provided. The document itself will detail the extent of the rights granted to the agent.
The agent can subsequently refuse to allow the principal to have life-saving treatments and procedures like being placed on a respirator or having a feeding tube inserted. A crucial factor is what the principal would have wanted. Therefore, it is useful to detail exactly what types of treatments would and would not be given beforehand so the entire scope of care is not left to the agent and physicians.
The health care agent can also admit or discharge a person from a health care facility if they choose to do so. They can look at the medical records and consent their disclosure. In short, the health care agent is given essentially the same rights as the principal would have were the principal capable of expressing them. This shows how substantial a responsibility it is.
Experience and advice
When making these fundamental decisions about the present and future, it is important to have experienced, comprehensive and trustworthy guidance. From the outset, consulting with professionals who know the ins and outs of all areas of estate planning – including understated parts like advance directives and guardianships – can be essential to achieving the desired result. The health care agent has vast responsibility, so having assistance with naming a person and ensuring it covers the principal’s goals is key.