If you’re incapacitated at the end of life – unable to speak or communicate with doctors or loved ones – how will they know your wishes for end-of-life care? Would they make the same decisions you would have made for your care? You can answer these questions by putting your preferences in writing now, using advance directives.
The three types of advance directives
You should consider drawing up all (or a combination) of the three main types of directives:
- Living will – instructions for your preferred level of treatment (for example, whether to have a feeding tube or other forms of life support.)
- Durable power of attorney for health care – designation of another person to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself.
- Do not resuscitate (DNR) order – whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart or breathing stops.
These directives are legal documents but do not require a lawyer’s assistance. Many examples are available online and can be adapted for your particular situation, then signed by you and notarized. Each state has different requirements for these documents; forms that are specific to your state also can be found online. Most states honor another state’s advance directive.
When are directives used?
Your advance directives are valid only if you are incapacitated and not expected to recover. But in order for them to be followed, your directives must be known to your family and your physician. That’s why it is so important to put your desires on paper and give copies to your loved ones and your health care provider. You can also register your advance directives with your state (a handful of states, including Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, and Vermont, have free registries) or, for a fee, with the U.S. Living Will Registry.
To get started, talk to your doctor about end-of-life decisions and options. Decide what’s right for you, and talk about your decisions with family and friends. Put your decisions in writing, and ensure those who will be caring for you have a copy.
Advance directives help you make things easier for your family and for yourself at the end of life. Make your wishes clear now.