Advance Directives: Putting Your Wishes in Writing

Advance DirectivesIf you’re incapacitated at the end-of-life and unable to communicate with your doctors or loved ones, will they know your wishes for end-of-life care? Will they make the same decisions you would make for your care? You can ensure that your end-of-life care is handled the way you want it to be handled by putting your preferences in writing using advance directives.

Advanced directives are documents that instruct your loved ones and medical caregivers how you would like your end-of-life care to be handled.

There are three main types of directives:

  1. Living Will: A living will is a written document that indicates your desires for medical treatment if you can not communicate. For example, you would define in your living will if you would like to have your life sustained with a feeding tube or other forms of live support.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care:  A durable power of attorney for health care is a written document that designates who you would like to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself.
  3. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A do not resuscitate order is a written document that indicates 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 these can be adapted for your particular situation.

Rules for advanced directives vary state-by-state. Be sure that your forms are designed for the requirements for your particular state. Forms specific to your state can be found in bookstores and many office supply stores. They can also be found online. Most states will honor another state’s advance directives.

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When are advanced directives used?

Advance directives are valid only if you are incapacitated and not expected to recover. Remember, in order for your advanced directives to be followed, they must be known to your family and your physician. That’s why it is so important that you put your desires it writing. You should also give copies to your loved ones and health care provider. You can also register your advance directives with your state with the U.S. Living Will Registry. Several states, including Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, and Vermont, have free registries. Others offer the service for a small fee.

If you are unsure what you should do with regard to advanced directives, talk with your doctor and family about end-of-life decisions. Once you have decided, put your decisions in writing, discuss them with your family or a trusted friend, and provide a copy to the person or people who will help make sure your wishes are honored.

Having advance directives help you make things easier for your family and for yourself at the end-of-life. Make your wishes clear now.

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