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Advance Medical Directive:
Ensuring Your Loved One’s Wishes

An Advance Medical Directive (commonly referred to as a “living will”) is especially vital to the care of nursing home residents to ensure their medical wishes will be honored even if they are unable to fight for themselves.  The times when we suffer overwhelming feelings of powerlessness are our scariest moments.  This is especially true for residents of nursing homes who may be unable to speak or think clearly when important medical decisions are needed.  Be prepared.  What happens to your mother or father in nursing home care after they’ve suffered a severe stroke or fallen into a coma may be decided by others unless you have an Advance Medical Directive already prepared and on file.

What’s Covered in an Advance Medical Directive?

An Advance Medical Directive is the document which cares for patients’ entire well-being and wishes while they are unable to express themselves.  While preferred forms of treatment can be included, the Advance Medical Directive is usually a restrictive, or “what not to do,” document.  Often, it outlines those procedures patients would prefer not to undergo, such as certain forms of cancer treatments or medical practices that may violate their religious beliefs. 

More important for nursing home residents, an Advance Medical Directive is the document which tells doctors if and when they should “pull the plug.”  Suppose the unthinkable happened and an understaffed nursing home mixes up medication schedules causing your parent to have a cardiac arrest.  Should the hospital doctors resuscitate?  How long would your mother or father wish for a machine to feed them?  Breathe for them?  Though these subjects are always tough to talk about, these very real facts of later life need to be discussed and officially documented.  Without an Advanced Medical Directive, mom or dad’s verbal wishes are not legal evidence for deciding what kind of care they receive. 

(Click here to read an excerpt from the New York Attorney General’s report on the importance of having your loved one complete an Advance Medical Directive.)

Who Gets a Copy of the Advance Medical Directive?

Any nursing home facility and hospital your loved one attends should be given a copy of the Advance Medical Directive and should keep it on file.  Additionally, primary care physicians, family members, and the person designated with Power of Attorney should all receive copies.  You should have as many relatives and friends of the family present as possible when the Advance Medical Directive is signed.  The more people who know these wishes, the better the chance the appropriate actions will be taken.  Similarly, many sons and daughters with a parent in a nursing home have a copy kept at their place of worship and keep an extra copy safely at their house in a home medical file or with other important documents in a fireproof container.

Crossing Legal t’s and Dotting State i’s

Advance Medical Directive laws vary with every state in the U.S.  It is best to obtain a copy from your local state health department office, the local agency on aging, or a hospital.  Or you can use the Consumer Justice Group’s free form - click here to open(Please note: This is a free service and not intended as legal advice.)  You will also need to schedule to have a notary present for notarization.  Again, it is best to gather as many relatives together as possible and to store this document in a safe place.


Lawyers for Change  

If you suspect your loved one has suffered or is presently suffering nursing home neglect or abuse, do not hesitate to contact the Consumer Justice Group. Our nursing home attorneys fight for your parent's rights and dignity. Click to contact a local elder law lawyer.

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