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The reason medical facilities in Maryland and across the country always ask about such things as advanced directives when they admit a patient is because of the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act of 1990. This ensures that each patient who is on Medicare is informed of his or her right to make decisions about his or her own health care. One way to have a say in this is for each individual to have a medical power of attorney in place. It's also crucial the named agent is an individual that the person granting the power trusts implicitly and is also one who understands and accepts the specific wishes of the individual making the appointment.

Only one-third of Americans have a living will. While that percent nearly doubles for those in retirement facilities, most medical professionals believe it is still not enough.  Many doctors feel that some people shy away advanced directives like a living will or a power of attorney because they fear engaging in a conversation that puts their mortality out in the open. It's thought that most people understand that everyone needs these items but don't want to make these decisions for themselves.

Part of this could be that people may be confused about when an advanced directive becomes effective. For instance, most do not want to be taken off life support unless there is no hope of surviving to continue with a meaningful quality of life. With advanced planning, a person can name a surrogate to make the final decisions in specified circumstances. 

When someone is terminally ill, the need for advanced directives -- such as a medical power of attorney -- is generally understood. When Maryland residents reach this point, they often have no problem making those decisions. However, the medical community notes that each person, no matter how young or healthy, should have these directives in place in case of an unforeseen instance that could leave loved ones struggling to make a decision of which they are not sure. Moreover, without the appropriate documents, family members may not have the authority to act even if they know the wishes of their loved one. Estate planning attorneys can help by providing guidance and support in drafting and executing documents appropriate to the individual wishes of the client.

Source: Fox News, "It's National Health Care Decisions Day: Who will you designate?", Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., Gary Dodd, April 16, 2015

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