Divorce, Part 4 of 7: Update Your Advance Directive

Your Advance Directive (sometimes also called a Health Care Power of Attorney) is a document that gives the person you name (your “Agent”) legal authority to make your health care decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.  It may also state your wishes regarding end-of-life care (tube feeding and life support), organ donation, and cremation or burial.

In Oregon and Washington, divorce automatically revokes an ex-spouse’s appointment as your Agent.  It is very important to review your Advance Directive and to consider whether new Agents need to be named.  If you revoke your Advance Directive, you should try to find any copies and destroy them.

Tip:     Update your emergency contact with your employer and doctor’s office.  If you gave a copy of your Advance Directive to your doctor’s office, make sure you keep them informed regarding any changes.

Your doctors will look to you to make your own health care decisions if you are conscious, able to understand questions, and able to communicate in any way – including blinking for yes or no.  If you are totally unable to effectively respond, your health care Agent is the person your doctors will consult.  You will want to give your Agent as much guidance as possible regarding your wishes, especially for end-of-life care.  Therefore, your Agent should be someone with whom you feel comfortable having very personal discussions.  Your Agent does not necessarily have to be someone who lives near you.  However, they should be willing to travel to be at your bedside in the event of a medical crisis.

Tip:     Before appointing your Agent, speak to him/her to confirm that your Agent is comfortable playing this role in your estate plan.  There is no point in naming someone who would feel unable to shoulder the responsibility and decline to serve. 

Additional guidance can also be very important when it comes to your health care.  If you can explain to your family under what circumstances you would, or would not, want your life prolonged by tube feeding and life support, your family is less likely to dispute your wishes.  They can be emotionally reassured knowing that they are doing what you wanted them to do, rather than making their best guess.  Imagine how difficult it would be to “pull the plug” on a loved one, when you aren’t sure whether they would want to be kept living?  We probably all remember the situation of Terry Shaivo.  Her husband and her parents couldn’t agree on her wishes, and a nasty fight ensued.

Make sure you also talk with your lawyer about your state’s options for end-of-life care.  There may be additional directives or instructions that you should consider.

Review your Advance Directive or Health Care Power of Attorney with your lawyer.  You will likely want to revoke it and sign a new one.