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Do you need an advance directive for mental health care?

On Behalf of | Apr 21, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Advance directives are among the first and most important estate planning documents to put in place. Unlike your will and various trusts, these documents address your wishes for a time when you’re still alive but may not be able to speak for yourself.

In Florida, these include a living will and powers of attorney (POAs) where you designate a surrogate to oversee your medical care and finances.  If you’re being treated for a serious mental health issue, it may also be wise to draw up a Declaration for Mental Health Treatment (DMHT)

What can you designate in a DMHT?

A DMHT, which is separate from your living will, allows you to tell medical providers what kind of psychiatric treatments you do and don’t want if your mental illness has left you incapacitated or unable to make informed decisions.

In a DMHT, you can designate things like:

  • What facility you prefer to be taken to and what doctor to notify if you’re in crisis
  • What medications you do and don’t consent to
  • Whether you consent to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Your preferences for emergency interventions (such as sedation and restraints)

You should also designate a mental health surrogate (and an alternate) who has your permission to talk with your care team and advocate for your wishes.

A DMHT is valid for a limited time

It’s important to note that unlike other advance directives, a DMHT has an expiration date. It remains valid for three years from the date you put it in place unless you’re incapacitated at that time. If so, it remains valid until you can make your own decisions again. 

A lot can change in three years – not just in your mental health but in the types of medications and treatments available. That’s why it’s crucial to keep this form current.

Your mental health and other health care providers should have a copy of your DMHT. So should your designated surrogates. It’s also wise to keep a copy with you at all times – especially if you’re traveling. This can help authorities get you the care you need as quickly as possible. 

Many people throughout the country have some form of psychiatric advance directive in place. You likely will never need it. However, if you do, it can make all the difference in the outcome of a mental health crisis. With experienced legal guidance, you can help ensure that yours is valid and properly designates your wishes. 



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