Attorney Chasity Stratton discusses South Carolina health care powers of attorney, living wills, and Do Not Resuscitate documents with nurse Kay Lawrence.

Chasity Stratton: Hi, I'm Chasity Stratton. I am one of the managing partners here at Stratton and Reynolds, and I'm here today with my friend Kay Lawrence, who is a retired nurse. And we're here to talk about advanced directives. It's always good to see.

 

Kay Lawrence: You too. I'm here to add some perspective from the healthcare industry in terms of how advanced directives actually affect people and some of my experiences.

 

Chasity Stratton: Wonderful. Well, one of the things, at least on the legal side that we see often is a confusion about what an advanced directive really even is. And so I think that's probably where we should start. The terminology, advanced directive obviously is just, any type of legal document, if you will, where you're making plans for future healthcare needs. Here in South Carolina, we actually only have two statutory advanced directives. One is your living Will, which is actually called a declaration for desire of a natural death. And the second one is our statutory healthcare power of attorney here in South Carolina.

 

Anything outside of that - so you may hear things about like the five wishes form, or there's certainly forms that are geared toward those that have mental health issues or cognitive issues. Those are not statutory forms in South Carolina. I am certainly not one of those people who's going to preach that they're inherently bad. It's just if you want something that all of the doctor's offices and hospitals are going to accept here in South Carolina, we really are looking at those two statutory forms. We actually do not believe that you need both. The living Will - so that declaration for desire of a natural death, predated the healthcare power of attorney, and it only allowed you to make decisions about do you want life support or do you not want life support. It's very black and white.

 

Several years later, the South Carolina legislature adopted our statutory healthcare power of attorney. In that document, you can actually name agents who will make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. In addition to that, you can limit or direct your agents' decision-making authority by choosing things like do you want your organs to be donated? It does include those living Will questions about life support and about tube feeding. And it gives you the options to make those decisions for yourself or allow your agent to make those decisions in the future. Practically, Kay, tell me a little bit about what your experience has been with those advanced directives.

 

Kay Lawrence: So I spent, almost 40 years in nursing, mostly in critical care situations, and I've seen a variety of situations. One of the most heartbreaking is the elderly parent who is unable to speak for themselves, who needs advanced healthcare. They need a ventilator, they need medication drips, they need tube feedings to stay alive. And their children are coming, sometimes adult children from out of State. You know, we all have family situations, but their children are trying to figure out, what would my mother really want in this situation? What does my father really wanted this situation? So, I've seen a lot of that and it can be actually very heartbreaking to watch families try to determine this. I happen to have a personal experience with my parents. They were very specific in their advanced directives about, and I'm probably using the legal terms wrong, so go with her for legal. But they were very specific about what they wanted. And the real important part of this was they talked to myself and my sisters about this, so we knew, we understood what they wanted and why they wanted it.

 

So that brings us to the other part, I think, of the issue. you guys are experts with the legal forms and you can definitely help people lying out what they want and make sure that it has a good chance of being done legally. But, I think the conversation with your family members is just so, so important. And I hope that people will start to do that a little bit more.

 

Chasity Stratton: I could not agree more. I think the legal documents are obviously an incredibly important aspect of planning, but part of that is having that hard conversation. And so often parents don't want to sit down and talk to their kids about it because it's difficult. And, you know, oftentimes the family's only together over the holidays and they don't want to ruin the holidays by talking about it. But I will tell you, that being able to pull up that conversation with mom and dad and go, "No wait, mom really did say yes, she had the form that says this, but she also told me she does not want life support under these circumstances." Just gives your family that peace to be able to say it's okay to let somebody go.

 

Another form that I'm sure you guys see more in probably the clinical aspect is of course a do not resuscitate order or DNR. We have questions about this all the time from clients. I only mention it because when we're talking about advanced directives, clients do ask us about DNRs. I want to make sure that it's very clear that first of all, the DNR is a medical form. You can only get it through your doctor's office or through your hospital, and it talks about whether or not you want to be resuscitated. We do not provide those to clients, but certainly if that's something that's important to you, you need to talk to your doctor about getting that in place. And there's certain rules about where it should be displayed and who should have access to it. Obviously, ask those important questions if that's something that you feel like you are interested in pursuing.

 

Kay Lawrence: Absolutely that helps to clear up that one particular situation and then, you know, consult a good attorney about all of those gray areas in between. And very importantly, have conversations with your family.

 

Chasity Stratton: That's right. If you have any questions about advanced directives, healthcare powers of attorney, living Wills, or just estate planning in general, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

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