Advanced Directives: Having Your Say on Medical Decisions

Advanced Directives: Having Your Say on Medical Decisions

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Advance care planning is not just about old age. At any age, a medical crisis could leave someone too ill to make his or her own healthcare decisions. Even if you are not sick now, making healthcare plans for the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want, even when doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.

More than one out of four older Americans face questions about medical treatment near the end of life but are not capable of making those decisions.

Living wills and other advance directives describe your preferences regarding treatment if you’re faced with a serious accident or illness. These legal documents speak for you when you’re not able to speak for yourself — for instance, if you’re in a coma.

Living wills and other advance directives aren’t just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it’s important for all adults to have advance directives.

An Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) is a legal document that allows you to convey your decisions about end of life care ahead of time. They provide a way for you to communicate your wishes to family, friends and health care professionals, and to avoid confusion later on.

A living will tells how you feel about care intended to sustain life. You can accept or refuse medical care. There are many issues to address, including:

  • The use of dialysis and breathing machines
  • If you want to be resuscitated if breathing or heartbeat stops 
  • Tube feeding
  • Organ or tissue donation 

A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that names your health care proxy. Your proxy is someone you trust to make health decisions if you are unable to do so.

The AHCD does not give your healthcare agent the authority to make financial decisions for you. To give your healthcare agent (or another individual) authority over your financial affairs, you can do so through a separate legal procedure, such as a Durable Power of Attorney for Assets Management or a Revocable Living Trust.

If you would like to give your health care agent or another person you trust power over your finances, you should consult an attorney about your legal options.

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