More West Virginians either have a living will or a medical power of attorney, according to a survey by an end-of-life care center, but lawyers tell people to use caution and avoid easy mistakes when issuing their final wishes.
Dr. Alvin Moss, director of the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care, said the center's survey found a higher percentage of West Virginians have filled out these forms of advance directives than in other states.
The survey, which reached out to 1,000 West Virginia adults, found 50 percent either had a living will or a medical power of attorney. Thirty-eight percent had both. The survey also found that more people are dying at home as opposed to a hospital.
This marks an increase from three years ago, when the center found 40 percent of people had at least one document and 28 percent had both.
John Hussell, an estate-planning lawyer in Dinsmore's Charleston office, said he also sees more people using medical powers of attorney and living wills than in previous years.
Hussell said attorneys encourage people to get these documents at the same time because it is less likely to present a problem later.
The state Legislature has provided funding the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care since 2002, the center's news release states, and it receives a majority of its funding through the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Moss explained one of the center's missions is to educate residents about advance directives and give them the opportunity to complete these forms. To educate the public, staff members have given presentations at various health care facilities.
"You want to ensure that when a person can no longer make a decision, they have named a person they trust to make decisions for them," Moss said. "It's really helpful for doctors, nursing homes or wherever the person is to make sure the person is the one they chose to be the decision maker."
Moss said many people delay getting these documents because they think they don't need it now.
Hussell said it's important to get documents sooner than later because the procedure of appointing a guardian could be time-consuming and costly if the person is incapacitated later in life.
Through this process, the person may not have assets go to the one originally intended, Hussell said.
A case recently before the state Supreme Court explored what can happen if a person is too incapacitated to sign a will.
In the per curiam opinion, justices said that failure to sign a holographic will render it void.