Who Should Make Your Decisions When You Are Incapacitated?

Illness, accident, or advanced age can render a person incapable of making decisions for himself. While you are healthy, deciding who can act on your behalf in those situations can give you the assurance that your wishes will be followed.

Advance directives are legal documents that enable you to designate whom you want to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. The three types of advance directives are: (1) the durable power of attorney, (2) durable power of attorney for health-care decisions, and (3) living will.

With a durable power of attorney, you designate a person to perform certain tasks on your behalf. Unlike a regular power of attorney, a durable power of attorney remains effective if you become incapacitated, but does not extend beyond your death. At that point the executor of your estate takes over your affairs upon court approval.

You can specify what duties or authority the durable power of attorney has and how you want that person to fulfill your wishes. Examples include specifying the type of care for your dependents like an elderly relative or mentally disabled child or continuing with charitable contributions or gifts while you are still alive but incapacitated. While a durable power of attorney can be in effect when you are healthy, you may also specify that it becomes effective only when you become incapacitated.

In deciding whom to designate as your durable power of attorney, choose a person who knows you very well and would act with your best interests in mind. It does not have to be an attorney, but could be a relative, close friend, or someone else you trust. You should discuss this with that person to make sure he or she agrees to the responsibility prior to executing the document .

A durable power of attorney for health-care decisions does just what it implies. You designate someone to make your health-care decisions if you are incapacitated. In this case, it is very important to discuss with that person your wishes concerning various health-care scenarios. For example, do you have a preference of a nursing home facility or are there any medical treatments you do not want.

A living will gives health care instructions for a person who is terminally ill or at the end of life. Make your doctor and loved ones aware of your living will so that they will abide by it if and when that time comes.

The State of Mississippi, through the Division of Public Health Statistics, offers a "Living Will" which provides a legal method for any person to express his or her wishes for the withdrawal of life sustaining mechanisms. Contact the Division of Public Health Statistics at 601-354-6612 for more information.