Advance directives in Colorado

August 10, 2012 Posted In Medical Directives
by Colorado Estate Matters

Empowering Coloradans to make informed healthcare decisions

How do you want to die? It is a jarring question, to be sure. We start asking each other as children, but the older we get, the more we shy away from the answer. When questions about our final days go from playful speculation to realistic planning, they can be uncomfortable for us and our family members but also become much more important.

Enter the advance directive, a document that communicates your wishes for end-of-life care. Keep reading to learn about the role these documents play within estate planning.

advance directive colorado

Understanding advance directives

Advanced directives are an ideal way to let your loved ones and your doctors know your wishes for your end-of-life care. The state of Colorado has authorized advanced directives so that healthcare providers honor your end-of-life care requests.

What are advance directives?

Advance directives, also known as a living will, are crucial in case you can no longer communicate the types of medical treatment you would like to receive and, alternately, the treatments you do not want to receive. These documents are essential to estate planning and become a permanent part of your medical records.

Why is it important to have an advance directive?

Since the majority of elderly people do need to be hospitalized in their final days, advanced directives are imperative to talk about and to prepare while you are healthy and able enough to do so.

Some decisions within the directive will involve the types of life-sustaining care you receive, such as CPR and resuscitation orders, as well as preferences regarding breathing and feeding tubes. Other decisions involve the types of palliative care that you will receive, such as pain medication and symptom management, so that you are more comfortable. Medical providers are legally obligated to carry out your advanced directives or any directives made by your designated agent.

Legal requirements in Colorado

To legally establish your advance directive under Colorado law, you must be at least 18 years old and considered competent when your document is written and signed.  You should also have the form signed by two witnesses who are not your doctor, their employees, or anyone who has a financial interest in your potential death. This includes relatives who may inherit from you.

These same limitations apply if you are in an emergency situation where you aren’t able to sign for yourself. You can designate a person to sign your advance directive in the hospital on your behalf. Your advance directive form in Colorado should also be notarized, although this is not required by law for it to be valid.

The remainder of the information should address how you wish to receive life-saving or life-sustaining care and for how long. Typically, it’s recommended you indicate your desires in the event of a terminal illness or injury or if you are declared to be in a persistent vegetative state. Many hospitals provide a form known as the Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST), which can serve as an advance directive in their intake process.

State-specific laws governing advance directives

Colorado has long recognized patients’ rights to indicate their wishes for end-of-life treatment and care if they are incapacitated. They recently codified this in the Colorado Medical Decision Treatment Act, which allows citizens to complete a Colorado advance directive form indicating whether and how long they wish to receive nutrition and hydration.

Necessary legal documentation and procedures

When you create a Colorado advance directive, you will need to decide how you wish to receive care in the event you are terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state and can’t speak for yourself. You must designate a healthcare proxy or agent (and a backup proxy) to make decisions for you in situations not covered by your advance directive.

You’ll also need to have the document witnessed and signed by two people, usually staff members in your attorney’s office or those in a hospital if you are being treated when you create the directive.

Preparing your advance directives

When you work on your estate plan with your lawyer, they typically recommend an advance directive as part of the materials. They can advise you on health situations you may not have considered so you provide as much detail as possible to guide your physicians and healthcare proxy.

Your Colorado advance directive should indicate whether you want doctors to provide life-sustaining nutrition and hydration or only for a specified time. You can also state how you wish to have your remains handled and if you wish to donate your organs.

Creating your advance directive in Colorado

You don’t have to use an attorney to create an advance directive in Colorado. You can use any MOST form if it meets the legal criteria and is witnessed by two people. However, working with an estate planning attorney lets you discuss your health and care concerns with an experienced professional. They can also work with you to update your plans as your health situation or marital status changes.

Advice on selecting a designated agent

The directives would also specify who your designated agent will make medical decisions for you if you cannot make these decisions for yourself. A designated agent can be a family member, a close friend, or another person who agrees, in good faith, to make decisions compatible with your wishes. It needs someone you can talk to and trust with your end-of-life decisions.

What to do after completing your advance directive

Once you complete and sign the advance directive, it’s important to keep a copy for yourself, ideally in your wallet or bag. You should also give copies to the people you nominated as your healthcare agent and their backup. Each physician who provides regular care for you should also be issued a copy for their records.

Most importantly, keep your advance directive updated when your circumstances change. Destroy any previous versions and distribute new copies to everyone who needs one.

Definitions of key terms and legal jargon related to advance directives

  • Adult: Anyone age 18 or older.
  • Artificial hydration and nutrition: Liquids are injected intravenously into the bloodstream or supplied through a stomach tube.
  • Decisional capacity: The ability to consent to accept or refuse medical treatment
  • Life-sustaining procedure: Any procedure or intervention in a medical setting that would only prolong the dying process.
  • Persistent vegetative state: A patient is not expected to respond or recover, as defined by medical standards of practice.
  • Terminal condition: An irreversible or incurable medical condition.

To learn more about advance directives in Colorado and related documents, contact Colorado Estate Matters at (303) 713-9147 or through our online form to schedule a free consultation today.

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