Most consumers understand the importance of making a will. As reader Walter Clark explained, “Without a will, the things I worked so hard for all my life may not end up where I intended.” But fewer know it’s just as critical to have protections in place while they’re still living. That’s the purpose of an advance directive.
It’s a legal document that states how you want to be treated if you become very ill, without reasonable hope for recovery. But most consumers don’t have one. Only about half of all terminally ill patients–and only a small minority of healthy adults–have advance directives, a new survey shows. The survey found people were more likely to discuss sex or drugs with their loved ones than end-of-life care.
National, state and community organizations, including the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, recently joined together to raise awareness about health directives. To protect your right to control your health care, an advance directive should address two things. It should have a living will component, which list the type of life-sustaining medical intervention you want–or don’t want–in the event you become terminally ill and unable to communicate.
And it should also include a health care proxy or durable health care power of attorney. That identifies the person you want to make decisions about your health if you become incapacitated. A health care proxy is important not only when a patient is near death, but also when someone is temporarily incapacitated.
You may need someone to make decisions for you, for example, following a serious accident. The person you name should be able to understand medical information about your care, know your wants and needs, and be able to make hard decisions during a crisis. Here are some places to obtain advance directive forms:
Caring Connections offers free, state-specific advance directives for all 50 states and Washington, DC.
Center for Practical Bioethics offers a workbook that contains information on healthcare preferences as well as advance directive documents that are valid in every state when notarized and signed by two witnesses.
National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives offers general and state-specific information on psychiatric advance directives.
The Will to Live Project provides state specific forms for designating an agent and stating healthcare wishes.
You can also get state specific forms if you live in: