What is an Advance Directive for Healthcare?
An advance healthcare directive is a legally binding document in which you clearly articulate your medical preferences and treatment choices in the event you become medically incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes. This comprehensive directive guides your healthcare providers on how to proceed in specific medical scenarios and designates a trusted individual of your choice to act as your healthcare proxy. This appointed individual plays a vital role in making complex medical decisions on your behalf, ensuring your preferences are honored. Without such a document in place, medical decisions may fall into the hands of healthcare professionals or individuals who may not fully understand your values and desires, potentially leading to treatments or choices that do not align with your wishes.
New Mexico Living Wills and Advance Healthcare Directives
In Albuquerque, both an advance healthcare directive and a living will address healthcare decisions. However, an advance healthcare directive is a broader document that includes a living will component and designates a healthcare agent to make medical decisions for you. A living will, known as an “Instruction Directive” in New Mexico, is more specific and primarily focuses on end-of-life decisions but does not appoint a healthcare agent. The statutory advance healthcare directive takes the place of a living will in New Mexico. Therefore, while you may have heard of living wills and you may have been told that you need one, in New Mexico only the advance healthcare directive is authorized by statute and required.
Some doctors, hospitals, and health insurance companies offer their own forms for these types of documents. These forms are most likely legally sufficient, but signing multiple different forms with multiple providers raises the possibility of confusion if the forms do not have identical provisions and/or you do not fill them all out the same way. It is best to complete one legally valid form and provide it to healthcare providers as appropriate.
When you only want to have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, you can usually handle this with a simple form from your healthcare providers. However, you will want to talk to your healthcare providers before entering into a DNR as they are only to be utilized when you are actively praying for death. Life-saving health measures are typically not to be taken when an individual has elected to enter into a DNR.
Who Needs an Advance Healthcare Directive in New Mexico?
While most healthy people think that they do not need to worry about an advance healthcare directive, nothing could be further from the truth. When a medical emergency arises and the patient is unable to make his or her own decisions, it is too late to get an advance directive in place. The patient’s treatment preferences will not be known and the person who should make decisions will not be legally authorized to do so. Completing an advance healthcare directive now—even if you have no current medical conditions—will ensure your wishes are followed if you are ever unable to speak for yourself in the future. In the event that a healthcare directive is not in place when someone becomes injured or incapacitated, oftentimes a court will have to get involved to initiate a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Items Typically Included in an Advance Healthcare Directive in New Mexico
Everyone has their own preferences, and it is up to you what is included in your advance healthcare directive. You may specify your wishes or leave future decisions entirely up to your agent. Specific directives may include:
- Whether you want or don’t want the use of particular equipment, such as dialysis or ventilators, used to keep you alive.
- Whether you want or don’t want to have a feeding tube, IV, or other apparatus for nourishment if you are unable to eat or drink.
- Whether you want or don’t want to be given particular medications or treatments, such as psychotropic medications or blood transfusions.
- Whether you want or don’t want to ensure your viable organs are donated upon your death.
What Happens if You Don’t Set up an Advance Healthcare Directive?
Many individuals don’t give much thought to creating a living will or advance healthcare directive until they are confronted with a severe medical condition. Even then, the inclination to delay such decisions can be strong. However, it’s essential to understand the potential consequences of not proactively addressing your healthcare preferences. Without one of these documents in place, you risk not having your wishes respected in critical medical situations. In the absence of clear instructions, healthcare providers may have to make decisions based on standard protocols or consult with family members who may have varying opinions about your care. This lack of guidance can lead to uncertainty, emotional distress, and even disagreements among loved ones at a time when you need support the most. To ensure that your medical preferences are upheld and to relieve your family of the burden of making difficult choices on your behalf, taking the time to establish an advance healthcare directive is a responsible and compassionate step toward your own peace of mind and the well-being of your loved ones.
If you have a mental illness, New Mexico offers a separate statute and form for mental health advance directives (also sometimes referred to as psychiatric advance directives). This form can be incredibly valuable if your mental illness is a type that is treatable but makes you susceptible to relapse. Contact one of our Albuquerque estate planning attorneys to discuss this special type of directive and how it can help you.