Here’s where to find the Illinois versions of the various legal documents related to death and dying.
There are three legal documents which every adult resident of Illinois should have:
- Power of Attorney for Health Care. Use this form to designate someone (called your surrogate) — a friend or loved one in whom you have the highest degree of trust — to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
- Power of Attorney for Property. Allows you to designate someone to handle your financial affairs if you are incapacitated.
- Living Will. Expresses your desire that you be allowed to die naturally with only comfort care, if your doctor has determined that your death is imminent except for death-delaying procedures.
The Living Will is important. But the Power of Attorney for Health Care is the really important one. Without it, your surrogate might not be able to make a hospital or health care facility respect your wishes.
The forms are from the Illinois Department of Aging, which has an excellent page on Advance Directives. See also the “Forms” page of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Both Powers of Attorney allow you to specify an agent and a successor agent, in case your primary agent is unavailable or otherwise unable to represent you. Both require witnesses and should be notarized, and there’s a part of the form where your agent and successor agent provide their signatures. The Living Will requires only one witness.
(Important note: typically these documents are structured so that only one person has your medical power of attorney at a time. But exceptions to this rule are possible. For example, you could give your medical power of attorney to two of your loved ones, so that either of them could make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It can get complicated, so if you want anything other than the simple one-person-at-a-time rule, be sure to consult an attorney.)
Also, we highly recommend purchasing and executing the form My Last Wishes, In The Event of Irreversible Cognitive Decline. Available as a download for $5 from the ERGO Store. This document expresses in the strongest terms your desire for a peaceful, dignified death should you suffer irreversibly from Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. Documents like these are sometimes referred to as a “dementia rider” to your living will. Compassion & Choices also provides a version of this document.
The POLST (DNR) Form: Another important document which you might choose to have, depending on your circumstances, is a POLST, or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, also called a Uniform Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Advance Directive. This is a standard form issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health pursuant to Illinois law. Think of the POLST as the newest and best version of the DNR form.
The POLST form tells your doctors or an ambulance crew whether you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops, and whether you want a breathing tube or feeding tube. The form should be filled out as part of a conversation between you (and/or your surrogate) and your doctor about what care you do or don’t want, and the doctor then signs it. So it is a legally binding medical order that doctors, nurses and ambulance crews must follow. (And of course you can change or cancel it at any time.)
The POLST form is most appropriate for people who are sick, frail and near death. There’s a wonderful new website about the POLST form in Illinois, at www.polstil.org, done by the Illinois POLST Taskforce, where you can read all about it and obtain the form. The Illinois Department of Public Health has an excellent page about DNR orders.
Another important document is a Hospital Visitation Authorization. You can use this to make sure that the people whom you want to be able to visit you in the hospital, actually can do so. It’s normally not necessary for spouses or children, but if the person you want to be able to visit you is NOT your spouse or child, then executing this form is highly recommended. Here’s the document on the Compassion & Choices website.
For all of these documents, save the originals in a safe place, and make numerous copies, so you or your agents have them readily at hand. Hospitals and nursing homes will typically request a copy of your power of attorney for health care and your living will.
The documents provided here are in PDF format, meaning you can print them, and then write on them to fill in the details. If you want copies that you can edit on the computer (for example, in Microsoft Word format), so that you can easily customize them, there are many sites available on the Internet that will sell these for a nominal fee. One that we have used is from the Internet Legal Research Group, at www.ilrg.com.
These documents are standard forms as established by Illinois law. So you can use them with confidence that they are in correct legal form. But if you have any doubts or questions, it’s always a good idea to consult an attorney.