Life Events

Getting Your Health Care Planning Documents in Order

Four steps to take.

David O. Parkinson May 1, 2016

Nearly every person will use one or more of the legal documents commonly involved with health care planning and end-of-life health care decisions so it’s important to understand them. Note: Utah, Idaho and Wyoming have similar statutory provisions providing for Advance Care Directives, Physicians Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment or Physicians Order for Scope of Treatment, and health care powers of attorney.

Advance Health Care Directive

For most people, the single most important document is the Advance Health Care Directive, which is a statutory form serving multiple functions. The Advance Care Directive includes the designation of a health care agent (someone to make health care decisions for you), living will provisions and an organ donor election.

Because this is a statutory form, it lacks some flexibility and may lack appropriate detail on issues you consider important. For example, if you have very specific instructions for your health care agent, you may want to utilize a separate health care power of attorney. This document generally goes into more detail than an Advance Care Directive about the agent’s powers and responsibilities. However, the Advance Care Directive is helpful when dealing with health care providers and serves as a focal point for discussions with family members concerning your health care wishes.

Physicians Order for Life-sustaining Treatment

The Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment form provides more specific instructions for end-of-life decisions and treatment options than does the Advance Care Directive. It is appropriate for those with a terminal condition. The form contains a “do not resuscitate” or DNR order. The form must be completed by a health care provider and signed by you and your doctor. A copy of this form should be retained in your patient file. You should also retain a copy of the form with your health care documents and give a copy to other providers.

Health Care Power of Attorney

If you have ever tried to help a spouse, parent or other individual pay medical expenses, you have likely encountered the provider who refuses to discuss the services provided (because of patient privacy concerns) so that you can make decisions regarding payment. This is a particularly difficult situation if the patient happens to be unconscious or otherwise unable to authorize the provider to disclose information to you.

The solution to this situation is a health care power of attorney, or a more limited designation of a “Health Care Personal Representative” (a term utilized in HIPAA). This simple one-page form authorizes a health care provider to disclose information to your agent as necessary for billing purposes.

Four Steps to Take

For any of these forms, take the following steps:

1. Discuss your health care wishes with your loved ones, health care agents and providers.
2. Make sure providers have copies of your health care documents.
3. Make sure your health care agents are aware of your wishes, your documents and their location.
4. Make sure your health care documents are accessible to both emergency responders and your health care agents. Place them in a prominent place — such as on the wall of the bedroom or on the refrigerator.

David O. Parkinson is an attorney with Callister Nebeker and McCullough. This article provides general information and should not be viewed as legal advice. The forms discussed above should be carefully reviewed and understood before signing. Each of them gives someone else a measure of control over your assets or person. If you have estate planning or elder law questions, please call Callister Nebeker and McCullough at 801-530-7300.

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