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Advance Planning

Q: My father recently passed away. While we were in the hospital with him, the doctor asked if he had a living will. Unfortunately, my father didn’t. My wife and I now want to do some advance planning in case something happens to either of us. Can you give me some guidance?

A: First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. Although I am prohibited as Attorney General from providing legal advice to private individuals, I can give you some general information on advance planning issues so that you can be prepared.

No one likes to think or talk about dying. And all too often people think their family knows what they want in the case of a terminal illness or accident. This is not always the case. Everyone dies eventually, and some advance planning will save you and your loved one a great deal of worry and stress when the time comes. The time to make decisions about care is not when you have to make these decisions.

Before you make any plans, you should talk with your family members.

This may include your spouse, your parents, if they are still alive, your siblings and your children. You may also want to include a close friend.

Sometimes the best person to handle a difficult situation is someone who isn’t a family member. If you have a trusted family doctor, you might also want to seek his or her counsel on the different medical options that are available.

When you talk to your family, tell them that you are making plans in case you have a terminal illness or accident and are unable to make decisions about your care.

Take their feelings into account, but remember that how you wish to be taken care of is ultimately your decision.

After you make your plans and draw up legal documents, make sure your family knows where to find them. Written instructions for your care will do you no good if they are locked in a desk or safe deposit box out of reach of those who need them. Consider giving sealed copies to several people so that people will have access to your instructions if and when they are needed.

There are several legal instruments that can help you make sure your wishes are followed if you become unable to make decisions about your care.
Directive to Physicians and Family:

This used to be called a living will. It is a written statement of your wishes regarding the use, withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment. It usually states that you do not want your life artificially prolonged by extraordinary measures when there is no expectation that you will recover.

You can also use this document to state that you do want your life prolonged by extraordinary measures.

This only goes into effect if you cannot make decisions on your own.

A Directive to Physicians and Family sets out very specific situations and lets you indicate how you wish to be cared for in those situations.

However, as any doctor will tell you, medical situations are rarely that cut and dried. If you are considering this option, make sure you discuss the situations listed with a trusted doctor.

Medical Power of Attorney:
This used to be called a durable power of attorney for health care. It allows you to designate a person who would make health care decisions for you should you become incapacitated. The document also allows you to leave instructions for the kind of treatments that you wish to be given. This only goes into effect when a physician certifies that you are unable to make decisions.

While these documents can be filled out without the help of an attorney, it is a good idea to consult with one. For help with finding an attorney, you can contact the Texas Bar Association’s Legal Referral at 800-252-9600. You can also obtain information on their Web site at www .texasbar.com.

The Texas Department of Health Web site also has information on advance planning issues and forms you can download. You can access their Web site at www.tdh.state.tx.us. In addition, the Texas Legal Service Center provides information on their Web site at www.tlsc.org. They also operate a legal hotline for older Texans at 800-622-2520.

The Office of the Attorney General Web site also has information on this subject, as well as links to sites that can provide further information. You can access our Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us.