An advance directive is a legal document that describes the type of health care you wish to receive if you become unable to communicate your preferences yourself. This type of document allows your family and health care team to honor your wishes regarding medical treatments and care. Keep reading to find out more about advance directives and why they are so important.

What Are Advance Directives?

An advance directive is an essential part of health care. Everyone has the right to accept or refuse medical treatment, however, if you become seriously ill or unable to communicate, someone else will have to make health care decisions for you. Preparing an advance directive document enables you to plan for the exact type of care you wish to receive in the future. 

You can sign an advance directive regardless of your health condition, as long as you are over the age of 18. However, the document can be legally used only if your physician confirms that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. 

Types of advance directives

There are two kinds of advance directives: living will and medical power of attorney. 

Living will

A living will is a legal document that states your wishes about the type of care you want to receive in the case you become incapacitated. This document is intended for your family, friends, caregivers, and health care providers in general. 

A living will provides specific instructions regarding your future medical care, and in particular end-of-life care. For example, it allows you to determine which medical interventions and treatments are acceptable and whether you would like your life to be extended if there is no hope of recovery. The document typically covers decisions such as resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, dialysis, organ and tissue donation, and body donation for scientific purposes.

Medical power of attorney

A medical power of attorney, also known as a health care proxy, allows you to designate a person who will have the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. This person becomes your health care agent. 

Who should be given medical power of attorney in an advance directive?

The health care agent is required to make medical choices based on your wishes, values, and beliefs. He or she has the legal authority to make the same decisions you could have made if you were able to communicate. Your doctor, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers are required by law to honor your agent’s decisions and provide them with the same information they would give you.

With a few exceptions, your health care agent can be anyone who is over the age of 18, including:

  • Your child
  • Your spouse
  • Your domestic partner
  • Your parent
  • Your sibling
  • A friend
  • A CDPAP caregiver
  • Your attorney.

However, you can’t choose as an agent a member of your current health care team, for example, a doctor or a nurse. The same applies to the employees of a long-term facility where you live, unless that person is a relative. 

It goes without saying that choosing the right person who will act on your behalf regarding important medical decisions is crucial. You should give medical power of attorney to someone who is willing to discuss medical care and end-of-life issues with you, follow your wishes and values, and act as your advocate if any disagreements arise over your care.

In the next section, we explain why it is essential to have an advance directive.

Why Are Advance Directives So Important?

There are several reasons why everyone should prepare an advance directive before a medical emergency happens, even people who are young and healthy.

Ensure that your wishes will be respected

No one can predict when an unexpected medical situation will occur. Having an advance directive ensures that your wishes related to health care are carried out, even if you’re unable to communicate them. 

Guarantee high-quality care

An advance directive can help your loved ones and medical providers make important decisions during a health crisis and ensure high quality of treatment and end-of-life care. By stating your wishes in advance, you’ll be able to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and ineffective treatments. 

Avoid conflicts

Your family members may have different opinions on what would be the best treatment if you become seriously ill. An advance directive reduces the chances of potential conflict as you will have already decided in advance the kind of care or treatment you want. 

Reduce stress

Preparing an advance directive is also a way to minimize the stress of your loved ones who may be affected by your situation. 

Help your caregiver make decisions

If you have a CDPAP caregiver, an advance directive will help them take the necessary steps when they are faced with difficult decisions regarding your treatment. 

Now that we’ve seen what advance directives are and why they are so important, here are some additional details you should keep in mind when preparing the document.

Other Points To Know About Advance Directives

Advance directives differ by state

Every state regulates advance directives differently. In some states, the living will and medical power of attorney are combined into a single document, while in others, they are two separate forms. Advance directives may also vary in content depending on state-specific statutes.

It is advisable to hire an attorney

Legal and medical information can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. While you are not required to have a lawyer in order to create an advance directive, hiring an attorney is highly recommended. In particular, you may need legal assistance in the following cases: 

  • You have unusual wishes regarding health care that don’t fit in the form
  • You have special medical circumstances
  • You have religious concerns
  • Your family members disagree about your future medical care. 

An attorney will also be able to inform you about the laws regarding advance directives in your state.

An advance directive can be modified

An advance directive can be changed, updated, and canceled in accordance with state law at any time, as long as you are able to think rationally and communicate your wishes. If you want to make any changes, you must create a new form and provide copies to your health care agent and medical team. 

You can have advance directives in multiple states

If you reside in multiple states, you may want to have advance directives in each state. This way, you will make sure that no matter where you are, your personal preferences regarding medical treatments will be taken into account. In most cases, your advance directive will be accepted in any state as long as it is legally valid in the state where it was created.

Advance directives should be reviewed regularly

Make sure that your advance directive is always up to date and that your health care provider has the most recent copies of the document. It is also essential that you inform your agent if your wishes or values change, so that they can make the most suitable choices for you. Consider reviewing the document at least every 10 years, but also if you receive a new diagnosis or change your marital status. 

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