If you become unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, an accident, or advanced age, the right legal documents are your lifeline. When you don't write down your wishes about the kinds of medical treatment you want and name someone you trust to oversee your care, these important matters can be placed in the hands of estranged family members, doctors, or sometimes even judges, who may know very little about what you would prefer.
There are two basic kinds of health care documents that everyone should make. First, you'll need a document naming a trusted person to direct your health care if you are unable to do so yourself. In South Dakota, the official name for this form is a durable power of attorney for health care.
Second, you should make a document setting out the types of medical treatment you would or would not like to receive in certain situations. This document is often known as a living will. In South Dakota, this form is sometimes called a living will declaration.
In South Dakota, the person you name to make decisions for you is called your agent. Most people name a spouse, partner, relative, or close friend as their agent. South Dakota has no specific requirements as to who can or cannot serve as your agent. However, we recommend that your choice be at least 18 years old and that you do not name your doctor or an employee of a hospital or nursing home where you are receiving treatment, unless that individual is related to you.
When choosing your agent, the most crucial criteria are trustworthiness and dependability. You might also want to choose someone you think will be good at asserting your health care wishes if others argue against them -- that is, someone who is persistent or calm under pressure.
While you need not name someone who lives in South Dakota, the person you name should at least be willing and able to travel to your bedside if necessary.
Your agent will begin to make health care decisions for you when you lack the capacity to do so. For more information, see Nolo's article Living Wills and Powers of Attorney for Health Care: How They Work.
You usually don't need a lawyer to prepare documents directing your health care. In fact, state governments have designed these forms for people to complete on their own by filling in the blanks. You can find the health care forms you need for South Dakota in Nolo's Quicken WillMaker Plus software. The software includes detailed instructions for completing your documents and meets all South Dakota legal requirements.