When you reach the end of your life, illness or aging may make it difficult to communicate with your family and healthcare providers. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to have an advance directive drafted up ahead of time for your loved ones to use. Advance directives and living wills communicate your medical treatment desires for you, preventing your family from having to make hard decisions on your behalf.
Having an advance directive ensures that you remain in control of your medical treatment regardless of circumstances, foreseen or not. It also relieves the burden on your loved ones—they’ll know exactly what to do for your treatment, and they won’t have to worry that they’re going against your wishes. If you’re ready to put together your advance directive, here’s what you need to know about advance directives and living wills.
An Overview of Advance Directives
An advance directive contains all of the information you want your family and healthcare providers to know about your healthcare wishes. When you first begin putting your advance directive together, you’ll want to do the following things:
- Ask your doctor about all of the end-of-life care alternatives available for you to use.
- Spend time thinking about which care alternative works best for you.
- Share your decision with your doctors and family members.
On your advance directive, you’ll want to include instructions for a wide variety of treatments and procedures. Some of the things that you should include instructions on are:
- If you want doctors to use a breathing machine.
- If you want your organs to be donated.
- If you want to be resuscitated if your heartbeat stops.
It’s important to discuss a wide variety of procedures on your advance directive. But even if you’re extremely thorough, there’s still a chance that something unexpected will happen. Because of that, it’s a good idea to fill out a durable power of attorney form. On this form, you’ll be able to name a healthcare proxy. This person will make all the decisions for treatments that are not on your advance directive.
You’ll want to choose someone that you trust deeply to be your healthcare proxy. This could be a family member or a close friend. It’s also a good idea to pick someone who has some medical knowledge. You’ll want to choose someone who you trust to make decisions on your behalf, and who will always be your advocate.
The Difference between Advance Directives and Living Wills
Many people wonder what the difference is between living wills and advance directives. Living wills are simply a type of advance directive. Generally, living wills are not as detailed as other types of advance directives, and they will only take effect when a patient is terminally ill. Some states have also now created forms that combine living wills with durable medical power of attorney forms.
Who Should Create an Advance Directive?
It’s important for patients with progressive neurodegenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease to create an advance directive. Patients with these diseases should create their advance directive right after they get their diagnosis, and they should be sure that all of their loved ones have copies of their advance directive. If you have been diagnosed with one of these diseases, discuss what’s on your advance directive with your loved ones. This way, you’ll be able to make sure that they understand everything in the document, and you’ll be able to answer any of their questions about your treatment preferences.
If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, create an advance directive that’s tailored to your illness. Before you begin writing your advance directive, talk to your doctors about the treatments you will most likely be given. As the disease progresses, you may begin thinking more about Do-Not-Resuscitate orders and mechanical ventilation. Your doctor will help you understand what these orders mean, and they will help you decide what will ultimately be best for your health and comfort.
Creating your Advance Directive
Each state has different requirements for advance directives and living wills. Some states require advance directives to be notarized, while others require a signature from a witness. Some states ask for both of these things. You can find links to state-specific forms on the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization website.
While you’re creating your advance directive, ask your doctor for help with any specific medical terms. Also, spend some time discussing your options with family members and friends before you decide what you want to put on your form. After you finish the form, have your doctor look it over. You can also bring it to a lawyer if you’re unsure about any legal matters. Once you’ve finished the forms, do the following:
- Put the original forms in a safe place.
- Give a copy to your doctor and healthcare proxy.
- Gives copies to your loved ones.
- Put a card in your wallet that says that you have an advanced directive and where the document can be found. Be sure to always carry this card.
- Talk to friends and family members about what’s on your advance directive.
Sometimes, you may need to change your advance directive after you’ve filed your forms. This could be because you’ve gotten a new diagnosis, you’ve had a change in marital status, or you’ve had a change of heart about your healthcare wishes. Each state has their own specific requirements for changing an advance directive. If you have any questions about your state’s requirements, contact an attorney working in your state. When you create a new advance directive, you’ll have to destroy the copies of your old form.
The Importance of Advance Directives and Living Wills
Advance directives and living wills are very important documents for patients with a terminal illness. They’re also vitally important tools for your loved ones. Your advance directive will be able to speak for you when you can no longer speak, and it will ensure that all your healthcare desires are met.
If you have any more questions about advance directives and living wills, please contact us at Harbor Light Hospice. We’re happy to help you with any inquiries you may have about advance directives or any other aspect of hospice care.