Tennessee recognizes two common types of health care directives: living wills, also known as advance care plans, and medical powers of attorney, also called appointment of health care agent. These options provide you with the flexibility to direct your health care, even when you’re no longer able to make your own health care decisions.
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Purpose of a Living Will
A living will documents your preferences for end-of-life medical care so that medical personnel will be able to follow those preferences if and when you become unable to communicate them. Since your living will is your way to make decisions before they become necessary, it can address topics such as pain management, CPR, life support, tube feeding, organ donation and many other medical preferences.
Choosing an Agent
You may also choose to appoint a health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should choose an agent you trust and with whom you have discussed your medical preferences. If you do become unable to direct your health care and there is any conflict between what your agent directs and what your living will directs, medical personnel must follow the terms of your living will.
Many resources are available to help you create your living will or appointment of health care agent. The Tennessee Department of Health website provides forms you can use as a framework for your documents. Your doctor’s office, hospital, or nursing home facility may also provide sample documents. You may also wish to have your documents tailored to your specific situation by consulting an attorney or online legal document provider.
Crafting a Living Will
If you use a form document, you must fill in the blanks on the document to indicate your specific wishes. However, you may wish to discuss your choices with your doctors to ensure you understand the medical terms contained in the living will, as well as the impact your decisions could have. For example, you could choose to have your living will apply only to end-stage illnesses, such as widespread cancer that does not respond to treatment, or choose to have it apply to other situations, such as permanent confusion like that which may result from dementia. Additionally, Tennessee requires your living will to be signed by two qualified witnesses or a notary.
After Creating Your Living Will
You should discuss your specific wishes with your family and doctors so they have a full understanding of your desires regarding medical treatment. Keep a copy of your living will and power of attorney in a place that others can access, and provide copies to your doctors and your health care agent so they will have the documents readily available should they ever need them.