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Who should have an advance directive for mental health treatment?

A crucial part of estate planning has nothing to do with what happens to your assets after you’re gone. It involves making sure that you and your finances are looked after as you’d want if you’re ever unable to take care of these things yourself.

For example, a living will let you designate what kind of measures you want to be taken (or not) to keep you alive if you have no chance of resuming a meaningful life after a catastrophic injury or illness. By giving power of attorney (POA) for health care and finances to people you trust, you can have some peace of mind.

If you’re dealing with a serious mental health issue for which you’re receiving treatment and that has the potential to leave you unable to make sound decisions for yourself – even if that’s unlikely – it’s also wise to have what in Louisiana is called an advance directive for mental health treatment.

What can you specify in this document?

This directive, which is to be used only if two physicians determine you to be “incapable,” allows you to designate your wishes regarding things like:

  • The use of specified psychoactive medications
  • Admission to a treatment facility under voluntary status for no more than 15 days 
  • If and under what circumstances would you consent to electroshock therapy

You can also (and should) designate a representative to talk with your care team advocate on your behalf according to what you’ve designated in the directive.

Some important limitations

The document can be overridden if it’s determined that you need to be taken into protective custody or placed under “involuntary” treatment. It states, “Your instructions can be disregarded in an emergency if your instructions have not reduced the behavior that has caused the emergency.  

Unlike other advance directives, this document is valid only for five years, unless you’re incapacitated at that time. This helps ensure that your directive reflects your current condition and wishes.

Who needs a copy?

After you finalize your directive, make sure that your mental health and other health care providers have a copy as well as your attorney and your designated representative. Keep one with you in case you need it in an emergency.

It’s crucial to consult with your mental health provider(s) in addition to having experienced legal guidance to be sure your directive meets your needs. This can help give you and your loved ones peace of mind.