Skip to main content
Planning and legal terms

Many of us assume we’ll be able to communicate our wishes until the very end. But no one can predict when accidents or illnesses like Alzheimer’s, ALS, stroke and cancer might occur. Serious illnesses or injuries often mean we’ll be faced with some very difficult decisions, such as when to refuse treatment in favor of quality of life as your condition progresses.

With National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) on April 16, now is the perfect time to ask yourself the question: “Who will speak for you if are no longer able?” While it may seem awkward or intimidating, talking about your end-of-life wishes with those closest to you — and putting them in writing— could be one of the greatest gifts you can give your family.

Legal Terms You Should Know

Completing an advance directive puts in place important documents that will help ensure you get peaceful ending you deserve, and allow you and your family to focus on making the most of the time you have left.

Here’s an overview of some legal terms and documents you’ll need to be familiar with during end-of-life planning.

Will and Living Will

A standard last will and testament allows you to control how your estate will be distributed after you die, and may include who you appoint as guardians for minor children under your care. A living will, on the other hand, states your wishes about life-prolonging medical care when you are no longer able to make those decisions yourself.

Powers of Attorney

A traditional Power of Attorney (POA) document grants another person authority to assist you with decisions, or make them on your behalf. A POA may cover financial matters, give health care authority, or both. The person you name as POA does not have to be lawyer, however. It can be any adult you trust.

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) grants another person authority to make health care, personal and/or financial decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself.

A Health Care Surrogate/Medical Power of Attorney refers to the person or persons you name to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able. This may be different than who you name in a DPOA to make financial decisions.

Physician Orders

Both Kentucky and Indiana offer voluntary planning tools designed to help you keep control over your medical care at the end of life.

In Indiana, a Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST) is a standardized form that contains your treating physician’s orders, based on your preferences for end-of-life care. In Kentucky, a Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST) outlines a physician’s plan of care that respects your wishes.

DNRs

A general Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Allow Natural Death (AND) order states that you don’t want CPR administered by medical professionals if your heart or breathing stops.

In Kentucky, a document called an Emergency Medical Services/Do Not Resuscitate (EMS/DNR) alerts EMS staff that you do not wish to be resuscitated during transport. In Indiana, it’s called an Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate order. A signed copy of the appropriate form(s) must immediately be on hand, or CPR will be administered.

Understanding the above legal terms is just the start to healthcare planning. Putting your wishes in writing now will help alleviate the burden on your family later. For more about advance directives and NHDD, visit theconversationproject.org