What You Need to Know About Advanced Healthcare Directives
Planning for the future means planning for all aspects, including our health and wellbeing.
It might be sad to admit it, but some of us spend more time planning vacations, weddings, or even dinner parties than we do our own healthcare decisions. It may seem like simply finding and paying for an affordable health insurance plan is effort enough. And while health insurance (and other forms of insurance) are critical for your physical and financial well-being, so too are advance directives.
An advance directive is a legal document that explains how you want decisions to be made if you can’t make them yourself. They help you identify a decision-maker and allow you to outline your preferences for end-of-life care, helping your loved ones navigate those difficult decisions with peace of mind knowing they are honoring your wishes.
For example, some people may wish to be an organ donor, while others may not. Or you might want to opt-out of extreme measures to prolong your life. No matter the decisions, they are yours to make, and these documents are an important part of the life planning process.
What are the types of directives?
There are two main types you’ll want to understand. One most people have heard of is a living will. A living will is a legal document that spells out the type of treatment you do and do not want to have and your medical preferences. You’ll answer questions such as: Do I want my life prolonged at all costs? Do I wish to receive antibiotics? How do I feel about pain management? Do I want treatment at all costs or only if a cure is possible? Do I want to be on a ventilator, or receive tube feedings? Would I like to donate my organs?
Another type of directive is the durable power of attorney for health care or medical power of attorney. This legal document allows you to appoint someone as a proxy to make medical decisions for you should you become unable to. While trusting your decisions to another might feel uncomfortable, you should know that a physician must determine that you are incapable of making your own decisions before your proxy is allowed to speak on your behalf. This should be someone who knows you well, and will be able to anticipate your feelings about your quality of life but be sure to have conversations with them to clarify your wishes.
Other Medical Preferences
POLST and DNR orders are not technically advance directives but are ways you can work with your physician to indicate your preferences for care and end-of-life treatment. POLST, or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, allows you to arrange with your physician for what treatments to order or withhold, while a DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate, allows you to choose if you want extreme life-saving measures to be used
Talk to your financial planner and your attorney about any wishes you have for your estate and your end-of-life care or preferences. You can usually find forms for each state on the state bar association’s website.