Directives can help in case of emergency

This was originally published on Monday, June 9, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Life is unpredictable. You are never sure what can happen in a minute’s notice. A serious medical emergency can happen at any time. No one likes to imagine the worst, but planning for it can ease the stress your loved ones could experience when having to make difficult life-or-death decisions. Your family may know your wishes, but under the duress of the situation they may not be able to convey them. Having a living will states clearly what your wishes are.

A living will and other advance directives let you specify your preferences regarding decisions when you are not able to speak for yourself. Advance directives are legally binding and should be prepared by an attorney. When making these arrangements consider your religious beliefs, if you want to utilize artificial life support and for how long, if you want to stay in a nursing home, and details of your funeral arrangements.

• Living will

A living will describes certain treatments that you would or would not want to prolong your life if you become incapacitated by a terminal illness or in a coma. It usually does not go into effect until your doctor and a second doctor agree that you are not able to make decisions. Usually a living will is used when recovery is not possible. This legal document can state your requests about mechanical breathing apparatuses, feeding tubes, resuscitation, dialysis, and, in some cases, if you want to be an organ donor.

• Medical Power of Attorney (POA)

A medical POA also is a legal document but it appoints an individual to help you make medical decisions when you are unable to do so. Unlike a living will, a medical POA can make choices for you regarding regular health care, not just life-ending decisions. Your medical POA can follow your wishes stated in your living will. Pick someone you really trust and has your best interest in mind because this person has a great responsibility deciding if you live or how you live. He or she does not have to be a family member. A medical POA also can be called a “health care proxy.” He or she is not financially responsible for your medical bills.

• Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

A DNR is a legal document that states your decision not to be resuscitated. Some advance directives do not have a DNR in them. Sometimes a DNR is not included in a living will or medical POA. A doctor may give you a DNR form to complete before a major surgery or treatment. Like a living will, the law changes from state to state.

Advance directives are important, especially when you and your family may not see eye-to-eye on medical matters. Let your family members know where you keep these important documents. No one likes talking about worst-case scenarios, but share your wishes with your family. Planning ahead can ensure you get the medical treatment you desire and will relieve your family from having to make some very hard decisions. Review your advance directives from time to time. These documents can be changed at any time.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at


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