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Protect Your Peace of Mind With Advance Health Care Directives and Living Wills

Do you want to ensure that your wishes and beliefs are upheld in your medical care? Advance health care directives instruct others about your wishes concerning medical treatment, should you become unable to communicate them yourself.

Documenting your plans can give you greater peace of mind and make decisions easier for your loved ones in potentially stressful situations. Here are some steps that will help you create these important documents.

Learn the Importance of Advance Health Care Directives:

  1. Have your wishes and beliefs honored. It's natural to feel uncomfortable thinking about physical incapacity and death, but it's comforting to know that you can exercise some control. You'll feel more secure if you take every possible step to ensure that the medical care you receive is consistent with your personal values and beliefs.

  2. Relieve your loved ones of unnecessary burdens. It's difficult for your loved ones to know what you want unless you talk with them in advance. You may be able to help them stay calm and united.

  3. Help professional caregivers help you. Doctors and nurses have demanding jobs. Make it easier for them to provide you with the best care even if that means referring you to a provider who better serves your needs.

Master the Basic Terminology:

  1. Consider creating a durable power of attorney. This advance directive lets you appoint another person who becomes your agent for making medical decisions for you when you are incapacitated. It's sometimes also called a medical power of attorney. This power extends to all medical decisions unless you specify additional conditions.

  2. Understand the limits of living wills. Living wills express your desires regarding life-sustaining or life-prolonging medical treatment. Practically speaking, their effectiveness is very limited, compared to a durable power of attorney.

  3. Decide on Do Not Resuscitate Orders. One more directive is worth mentioning: Do Not Resuscitate Orders. These provide instructions to medical personnel if you wish to decline life-prolonging measures under certain circumstances.

Create and Use Advance Health Care Directives:

  1. Select a health care agent. Your health care agent can be your spouse or another close family member or friend. An agent may also be called a surrogate or attorney-in-fact. In any case, select someone you trust with such a serious responsibility.

  2. Get the correct forms. Getting forms is easy. Facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments are required to provide you with written information. You can also obtain forms at local hospitals, community agencies, medical societies, geriatric care managers, and from many individual attorneys and physicians.

  3. Follow state laws. Every state recognizes advance directives, but requirements vary by state. You may want to seek legal advice to ensure you comply with requirements such as notarization and witness signatures.

  4. Distribute copies to key individuals. Your advance directive is more likely to be enforced if you give copies to all the key individuals involved. These include your family, your primary care physician, and hospital personnel. Of course, you need to discuss the final document with your agent and give them a copy. You may also want to deposit copies with your attorney and keep one in your safe deposit box.

  5. Talk with your doctor and family. Your doctor can help you understand medical implications and terminology to clarify your directive. Most of all, talk with your family about these sensitive issues.

  6. Keep your directive updated. It's a good idea to review your directive regularly to ensure it's compatible with your current life circumstances. Experts recommend that everyone 18 or over prepare a directive, so a lot can change over the years.

Advance health care directives can be simple to draft, but involve many complex issues. Get the guidance you need from medical and legal experts so you and your family will be prepared even in difficult circumstances.