By Carol Salter—Notarizing healthcare documents can seem formidable. When the notary truly understands the ramifications of the document to which they are affixing their notarial seal, this task can seem intimidating. But consider the alternative. If a member of the general public does not have certain stipulations in place or incorrectly notarized documents, the results are staggering. It truly can mean in some cases, life or death.

It is the responsibility of every ethical, conscientious notary to familiarize themselves with their state’s laws regarding health care and end of life documents. It is certain that each state has its own laws governing such documents.

There are several documents that are fairly universal. These include the following:

  • Medical Durable Power of Attorney
  • Living Wills
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR Directive)

Medical Durable Power of Attorney assigns someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. This comes into effect when you are unable to make your own medical decisions. Instructions can be placed into Medical Durable Power of Attorney describing what medical decisions you wish to be enforced.

Living Wills mostly deal with terminal illnesses. It tells your physician not to use artificial life support measures for an incurable or irreversible condition for which administration of life sustaining procedures will serve only to postpone the moment of death.

CPR Directives allows you, your guardian or agent the right to refuse resuscitation. Even if you have other advanced directives, the CPR Directive is strongly urged if you do not want to be resuscitated. There are bracelets that can be ordered and worn which give this direction.

In many states a family member or close friend can select a substitute decision maker for you if you do not have any advance directives or a guardian; and if a physician or judge determine you are unable to make medical decisions. Substitute decision makers are relieved of duty when you have regained decision making capacity.

Five Wishes is an excellent form that clearly lays out the desires of a person who becomes critically ill. It is recognized in 36 states and the District of Columbia. In most states it requires 2 witnesses but must be notarized in the States of Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. There are other stipulations for witnesses in certain states, so be sure to check it out. An excellent site regarding advance directives is located at www.familydoctor.org. The recommended article is titled, “Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders.”

While hospitals and health care facilities have notaries on staff, they do no notarize these documents in order to avoid a conflict of interest. So, it should behoove all notaries to familiarize themselves with these forms. If you wish to help, contact your local healthcare facility and ask for the case management or social work department. Volunteer to be put on a list of notaries who can be called to assist with these kinds of documents. You have no idea the peace of mind you will bring to a person who is completing these forms. So, get informed and get involved!