What is an Advance Directive?

The last time you visited the doctor’s office or had a simple medical procedure performed, you were probably asked if you had an advance directive.

Chances are, you said no. Two out of three Americans do not have any form of an advance directive.

An advance directive is a legal document that tells your doctor your wishes about health care if you can’t make the decisions yourself. You name a person of your choice to be your advocate, your voice, during this time.

The advance directive is a guide to be used by your health care team and loved ones when they need to make these decisions or to decide who will make decisions for you when you cannot. These medical decisions might include special actions or emergency care from your health care team. An advance directive can help you think ahead of time about what kind of care you want.

Advance directives only apply to health care decisions and do not affect financial or money matters. The laws around advance directives are different from state to state. Talk to your health care provider (or your lawyer) about filling out your advance directive when you are still healthy in case you become too ill or are unable to make medical decisions for yourself in the future.

Elder Advisers has access to the necessary resources to navigate and answer questions you may have about your loved one’s health and wealth needs.

Drafting an advance directive is highly recommended for older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions. However, advance care planning is not reserved for seniors. Life is unpredictable, so these documents are important for people of all ages even if they do not have an existing medical condition.

Without the instructions advance directives provide, family members are often conflicted over what kind of treatment their loved ones would have wanted in emergency and end-of-life situations. In the absence of any specific preferences, doctors are legally required to pursue all practical life-sustaining treatment options. These measures can be very extreme, and chronically ill individuals choose to opt out of specific interventions that may do more harm than good.

Advance directives can supply guidance in the following health care decisions:

  • The use of equipment such as ventilators
  • The use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • The use of artificial nutrition via tube feeding and/or artificial hydration via IV.
  • Treatments for pain, even if a person is unable to make other decisions. They may be called comfort care or palliative care.
  • The decision to donate organs or other body tissues.

It is crucial to discuss health care options, possible scenarios and personal preferences with a physician prior to executing an advance directive. Once the documents have been drafted, its contents should be reviewed in detail with the person selected Power of Attorney (POA).

How do you get an advance directive? An attorney can aid in drafting a valid advance directive, or local hospitals can direct you to the right forms.

Broaching such a heavy topic with a loved one can be difficult but having meaningful conversations with your family is the most important part of advance care planning.

Having these instructions expressed in writing removes the uncertainty of what medical care is desired and what is not. If we don’t spell out our wishes in a health care directive, these decisions are up to doctors who may not know you, or conflicts may arise among your loved ones over what our wishes might have been.

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