What is a Health Care Directive?What is a Health Care Directive

The dream is to stay lucid and physically capable right up until our last days. Some people get to live that dream; many of us don’t. Have you thought about what you’ll want if a day comes when you don’t have the mental capacity to make decisions for yourself?

The Definition of Advanced Health Care Directive

A health care directive is a legal document that clarifies what actions you want taken in the case that you become unable to communicate your desires any longer due to illness or incapacity.

Why It’s Important to Have a Health Care Directive

In the moments when we’re lucid, it’s really hard to imagine living without our full wits about us, but many of us will see someone we care about lose their ability to make informed, well thought out decisions as they age due to dementia, falling into a coma, or any number of other health issues that affect how our brains work.

An advanced health care directive gives you the chance to make sure now that your family, physicians, and anyone else tasked with your care if or when that happens follows through on what you want. It protects you from the potential of actions you’re not comfortable with being taken when you no longer have the ability to contest them.

Perhaps most importantly, it can take the burden of making a hard decision off of your family. When your loved ones are already upset and stressed because of your health issues, knowing how to proceed in the way that’s precisely in keeping with your wishes will be one less thing they have to worry about.

What Does it Consist Of?

An advanced health care directive can consist of one or both of two things:

Medical Power of AttorneyAlso sometimes called a healthcare proxy, this clarifies who should be in charge of making any decisions not otherwise addressed in your advanced health care directive. You can assign the person you most trust with this responsibility to be your health care agent.

Living WillThis tackles more of the specifics of what you want. You can spell out your preferences for as many end-of-life scenarios as you can imagine. The most common use of a living will is to specify whether or not you’d want to be kept on life support if your mind and body stop working to the point where you can’t live without it.

Advanced health care directives are specifically meant to address the eventualities none of us want to think about. If your preferences about end-of-life care are very particular, then you need to do the work of really thinking through the possibilities and how you feel about each so you can provide clear instructions that leave nothing to chance.

How to Set a Health Care Directive Up

Most people won’t need to consult with a lawyer to set up an advanced health care directive, but you should consult with your doctor and family members to discuss the details of end-of-life care and make sure you have a full understanding of what you want before you draw the document up.

CaringInfo allows you to download templates for advanced care directives for each state, along with the details of the law in the state so you know what to do to ensure your health care directive is legitimate. In some cases, you may need to fill out a specific form or have witnesses in order for the document to be legally valid.

The NHDD also collects a large number of useful resources to help with both the creation of an advanced health care directive and to aid seniors in the difficult process of having a conversation with their families about end-of-life care.

Once you’ve drawn up your advanced health care directive, make sure the people closest to you know where to find it when they need it. If you assigned someone as your health care agent, make sure to give them a copy so they know how to best carry out your wishes when the time comes.

Many of us do a good job of living the way we want for much of our lives, but it’s only in the past few decades that the law has provided an option for ensuring we can die on our own terms as well. Taking a little time now to work up the document gives you the power to decide your end-of-life care, no matter what happens to you between now and them.


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