Health care documents

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In these days of modern medical science when doctors can keep a body alive long after the thinking parts of the brain are dead, and even when the body can no longer breathe or circulate blood on its own, it is advisable to have a both a Health Care Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

Scott Law Firm provides both of these documents in a compact format at no additional charge to clients for whom we provide estate-planning services. We charge a nominal fee to clients who want these documents but are not ready to work on a complete estate plan.

Health care directives

A health care directive, sometimes called a “living will,” is simply a written statement indicating a person’s desire that specified medical treatment either be withheld or withdrawn under certain circumstances. Under Missouri law, the requirements for a valid health care directive are:

  • The person signing it must be at least 18 years old.
  • It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses (but it does not have to be notarized).
  • Each witness also must be at least 18 years old and should not be related to the person signing the living will, a beneficiary of his or her estate, or financially responsible for his or her medical care.

Health care directives should be thought through and prepared well in advance of any hospitalization or surgery – the decisions that need to be made should be carefully considered, and no one should feel pressured to do this in a short period of time.

After a health care directive has been prepared, the worst thing to do is to put it in a safe deposit box – because it may be needed on short notice. Some people travel with them, and others even keep them in their purse or billfold. While the person signing the directive should keep the original, copies should be given to the following, at a minimum:

  • Relatives and/or close friends, particularly those who may be called upon to help make health care decisions. (At the very least, relatives and close friends should know that the document exists and where it can be found.)
  • Physicians seen on a regular basis. (Ask that it be put in your medical records.)
  • Hospitals from which routine medical services are received or at which an elective procedure has been scheduled. (Ask that it be put in your patient records.)
  • Anyone appointed as an agent (attorney-in-fact) to make health care decisions (see below).

Once a health care directive has been signed, it can later be revoked (canceled), either orally or in writing. If a health care directive is revoked, another one can be signed later.

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Durable power of attorney for health care

Under Missouri law, it is also possible to sign a durable power of attorney for health care (DPOA-HC) giving one or more agents (attorneys-in-fact) the power to make health care decisions if the person signing the document becomes unable to make decisions.

A DPOA-HC must be notarized, but does not have to be witnessed. Like a health care directive, it can be revoked or rewritten at any time.

We recommend to our clients that they sign both a health care directive and DPOA-HC. The health care directive can provide important guidance to appointed agents and physicians, while the DPOA-HC can provide for circumstances not covered by a health care directive.

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