The answer is simple…YES, you still need an “Advance Health Care Directive” as your health status can change in a blink of an eye!! At any time, you could suffer a sudden injury or illness (such as a car accident). Having an Advance Health Care Directive is just as important as having a financial contingency plan!
So, what is an “Advance Health Care Directive?” An Advance Health Care Directive also known as a “living will,” “personal directive,” “advance directive,” or “advance decision,” is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity. It is best to choose this person in advance and tell him or her about your health care wishes. If you do not choose someone in advance, the law will assign a decision maker who must guess about your wishes. Do you really want that?
Prime example: On October 30, 1986, my mother and I were hit by a drunk driver causing my mother to suffer a broken neck. More specifically, she fractured her # 2 cervical vertebrae which normally results in sudden paralysis or instant death. Fortunately, my mother sustained neither outcome. Do you remember Christopher Reeve who starred in the movie Superman who sustained sudden paralysis as a result of a broken neck caused from his tragic horse riding accident? If so, my mother fractured the same cervical vertebrae as him. The doctors called it a miracle for my mother, but I call it the grace of God. However, her road to recovery took three long years with several neck braces. As you can see, her health status changed in a blink of an eye and so did our life!! At the time of the accident, the doctors asked if she had an “Advance Health Care Directive” in the event that she becomes unable to express her health wishes on her own. Of course my mother had already prepared an Advance Health Care Directive which she had given a copy to our family attorney, my father, her mother, and her best friend in case of an emergency. This became extremely beneficial to the doctors and it gave my mother (and I was only ten years old at the time) the assurance that her health care wishes would be legally honored in the event of sudden incapacitation.
There are two kinds of Advance Directives:
“Appointment of an Agent”
You may authorize another person, such as a spouse, child, or friend, to be your “agent” or “proxy” to make decisions for you if you become incapable of making informed health care decisions for yourself. You can specifically tell them the kinds of care that you do or do not want. This person you appoint should be an adult (18 years or older) and needs to be accessible, but does not have to live in the same vicinity or state. When you choose your agent, make sure that you have chosen someone who will be able to make potentially difficult decisions about your care, is willing to serve as your agent, and is aware of your wishes. You should also choose an alternative agent in the case that your primary agent is not readily available.
“Written Health Care Directive”
Allows you to state your choices in writing for health care that you would or would not like in the event you are unable to express your own wishes. It may not be possible to anticipate all possible medical situations for which your written health care directive might apply.
**A power of attorney for health care is broader as opposed to a written health care directive. Yet, it is best to execute both!**
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Advanced Directives Only for End-of-Life issues? No, they also can address any type of care in situations in which you cannot make decisions for yourself. For example, mental health issues and wishes about admissions to health care facilities.
Can I Just Say My Wishes Orally? You should always share your health care wishes with your loved ones and your doctors. However, you may only create an Oral Advance Directive if you have a terminal condition and tell your wishes directly to your doctor. Remember, putting your wishes in writing reduces confusion about your wishes since people often forget or misunderstand what was said.
What if I’m Unsure of What Health Care I Might Want? Still execute an Advance Directive to describe the important values and beliefs you have. You can always indicate your religious beliefs as often these types of statements will help others make appropriate health care choices for you when you cannot make them yourself.
What if I Don’t Know the Medical Terms, what Do I Need to Say? Just put it in your own words and describe it as best as possible of what medical care you do and do not want.
What If I Change My Mind? You may cancel or modify your Advance Directive anytime, but it is important that you tell others you have cancelled or changed it.
For more information and/or to download your state specific Advance Directive, please visit https://www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers/advance-care-planning/advance-directives/downloading-your-states-advance-directive/. Once you complete your Advance Directive, make sure you make copies and provide one to your doctor, take one when you go to the hospital, and give copies to your family and friends. Now, some states maintain an Advance Directive Registry. By filing your advance directive with the registry, your health care provider and loved ones may be able to find a copy of your directive in the event you are unable to provide one.
Resources: The Golden Gazette, CaringInfo, NHPCO
*Disclaimer: The author of this blog post is not an attorney and this blog post is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon without consulting legal counsel!