If you were to become incapacitated tomorrow, would your family know how you would want to be treated? For too many people, that answer is “no.” Most people have an aversion to thinking about their mortality. This is understandable. But what about your loved ones? Leaving them to argue over important medical decisions, while they are worried about your health, can be just as painful for them, if not more.
What is an Advance Directive?
Having an Advance Directive in place can prevent additional family stress in the event that you become incapacitated. It is also known as a Health Care Power of Attorney. The living will contained in the Advance Directive is a relatively simple legal document that discusses your wishes for treatment, in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. It addresses questions like:
- Do you want to be resuscitated if you are no longer breathing?
- Do you want to be placed on a respirator if you can no longer breathe by yourself?
- In what cases would you decline a feeding tube?
- How long would you want to be kept alive artificially?
Depending on the current state of your health, these questions may be answered differently. The great thing about an Advance Directive is that you can revise it throughout your lifetime to reflect your feelings and health situation at the time. This is also a good place to record your current primary care physician and whether you would like to donate your organs.
Assigning an Agent
In addition to setting down your medical treatment wishes, an Advance Directive enables you to assign a proxy to make medical decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. This person should be strong in emotionally challenging situations and should be able to make difficult decisions based on a thorough understanding of your wishes for medical treatment. This agent can be any competent person over the age of 18.
Who Needs an Advance Directive?
Anyone who is over the age of 19, should have an Advance Directive on file with their other important paperwork. If you have strong feelings about artificial life support, dying with dignity or other medical care considerations, you should set these down in writing and talk about them with people you love. Not only will you ensure that your wishes are heeded, you will also take the burden off of your loved ones to make these decisions for you.
How Do I Get an Advance Directive?
There are a number of ways to obtain an Advance Directive form. You will want to ensure that the form you have, or the one you write, satisfies the laws of the state in which you live. Your primary care physician may have forms for living wills on file that they provide to their patients as a courtesy. You can also find them on the internet. However, the best way to ensure that your living will is legally sound is to talk with an estate-planning attorney in your area. This is a relatively inexpensive way to show your family that you care enough about them to relieve them of the burden of making critical medical treatment decisions in a time of crisis.