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Take Control with Health Care Advance Directives

As estate planning attorneys, we regularly discuss with clients why it is important to have legal documents in place to make clear (1) who you want to make health care decisions for you if you are not able, and (2) what medical treatment or interventions you may or may not want. We encourage you to meet with an attorney who can fully explain what legal documents are available under Indiana law and what factors you might consider prior to signing the documents. This article briefly describes three documents that relate to health care decision-making (often called "health care advance directives") and how these documents can give you more control over your health care.

Appointment of Health Care Representative

Indiana’s health care consent law allows adults to sign a document appointing a Health Care Representative. Your designated Health Care Representative has legal authority to make health care decisions for you only if you cannot make decisions yourself. If you do not sign a Health Care Representative form while you have legal capacity to do so, and if you later become incapacitated, Indiana law decides who will make your health care decisions. Until this year, Indiana’s health care consent law has identified “default” decision makers, but there has been no priority among those identified persons. For example, the law listed a spouse and adult children as “default” decision makers, but did not state clearly that the spouse would be the first decision maker. If the spouse and adult children did not agree, disputes arose, which necessarily resulted in delays in decisions being made and sometimes in disagreements landing families in court. No one wants this.

Effective July 1, 2018, Indiana’s health care consent law establishes a priority listing among the “default” decision makers. This may be an improvement to the law, but we continue to encourage our clients not to leave this important decision up to the Indiana Legislature. Instead, consider and decide who you trust most to make health care decisions for you. You may also feel strongly that a certain person should not be permitted to make your health care decision. Take control and sign a valid Health Care Representative form for greater peace of mind.

Living Will Declaration

Another important document is the Living Will Declaration. This document allows you to express in writing whether you wish to receive life prolonging procedures if your doctor determines you are in an end of life situation. You may also designate whether you wish to receive artificially supplied nutrition and hydration. This declaration may be helpful to support decisions made by your Health Care Representative.  

Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (“POST”)

Finally, Indiana now has Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (“POST”). POST is different from a Health Care Representative form or Living Will Declaration in a few ways. First, you obtain the POST form from your doctor, not your attorney. Second, only persons who are suffering from a potentially terminal illness or condition are qualified to sign a POST form. Your doctor also signs your POST form. The POST form lets you designate in clear medical terminology which actions or interventions you wish to receive or not. Your designated Health Care Representative can also complete and sign the POST form. Significantly, unlike a Living Will Declaration, all medical providers are required to honor what is written on the POST form in any setting.

The Indiana Patient Preferences Coalition has produced an informative video about POST that you can view by clicking here.

In sum, your health care decisions are simply too important to leave to chance. Take advantage of these planning tools for more control.