Let Your Loved Ones Know in Advance about Your Health Care Wishes

Your Health Matters

An advance directive is part of care planning that any adult at any age can complete and have added to their medical record. This legal document provides instructions for end-of-life care and spells out what patients desire if they are in a terminal condition and cannot speak for themselves.

The advance directive offers each of us the opportunity to name the best person in our lives to make health care decisions for us when we cannot. Sometimes this is a spouse or sibling, but some of us are closer to nieces, nephews, neighbors or church friends and we would choose one of these extended “family” members for the role. It’s important to choose someone who understands your values and beliefs, stays calm in crisis situations and speaks up to ask the difficult questions on your behalf.

In addition to naming your health care “agent” or “proxy,” the advance directive includes a portion much like a living will. Here, you get to define in writing what matters most to you and what you value for the end of your life. These directions may include whether or not you want life-saving measures and what those should be; whether or not you want the support of a hospital-based medical team or if you prefer to die at home if that is an option; if you would like the support of a home care agency or if you would prefer that your family members take care of you in the end.

The best time to complete an advance directive is when you are healthy and the discussion is removed from an illness or devastating medical condition. The directive can be updated as circumstances change in your life, but once you fill one out, you should sign it with two witnesses present, neither of whom should be your named health care agent in the document.

Once you have completed the advance directive, it’s important to share it with your doctors and other health care providers so that it can be added to your electronic medical record, as well as your family and any friends who will be involved in your care. The document will not be accessed unless you are in a medical situation where you cannot speak for yourself.

Advance directives are only for you to explain your wishes for health care at the end of your life and are not related to any other decisions being made then, like bank accounts, insurance policies and the like.

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day this year. An electronic copy of the advance directive form is available anytime here:

Remember that having the conversation about those deeply personal and emotional end-of-life care decisions now will help create peace at a time later in life, when it is needed the most.