What is An Advance Directive And Why Should You Get One?

An advance directive is a legally signed document, in which you specify how you want your medical decisions to be made if you are in a situation where you cannot make such decisions yourself.  It is also known as a living will or personal directive. Advance directives only apply to health decisions and do not include financial or money matters. The laws surrounding advance directives differ from state to state.

An advance directive is used to direct your healthcare givers and loved ones on what to do when the need arises. This simple decision helps you think ahead of time about the kind of care you would want and who decides it.

There are two major types of advance directives;

  1. The living will.

The living will is a document written legally to state some health care decisions when a person is not able to make such decisions and choices on their own. This living will is only used when a person is terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This legal document will have a list of various medical treatments a person would want or not want when such a situation calls for it. It details under what conditions should an attempt to prolong life be started or ended.

Before this document can be used by your healthcare team, two physicians must ascertain that you’re not capable of making your own healthcare decisions and you are in a medical situation specified by the law of your state as permanent unconsciousness or terminal illness.

So, what are the things you can write in your living will? These include;

  1. Do not resuscitate orders (if your heartbeat stops, instructions not to use Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  2. If you want equipment such as ventilators or dialysis machines to help keep you alive.
  3. If you want intravenous fluid and/or tube feeding if you couldn’t drink or eat.
  4. If you want your organs or other parts of your body donated after death.
  5. If you want treatment for nausea, pain, or any other symptoms, even if you cannot make other decisions.
  1. Medical Power of Attorney.

A medical power of attorney, also known as a durable power of attorney for health care, is a document legally written that contains the name of a person you wish to oversee making all your health care decisions should you ever become incapacitated to do so. Before a medical power of attorney can be used to give directives on your medical care, your attending physician must ascertain that you are not capable of making your own medical decisions. 

When that happens and you’re deemed unfit to make your decisions, your proxy can speak on your behalf and make decisions according to the directions or wishes you gave earlier. In times when your wish in a particular situation is unknown, your proxy has the right to decide for you based on whatever they think you would have wanted. As soon as you regain the ability to make your own healthcare decisions, your proxy will no longer be allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf.

There is one exception to what your proxy can do.  The Patient’s Rights Council created the Protective Medical Decisions Document (PMDD). This document is a durable power of attorney that was been drafted to protect you. It clearly states that your agent or proxy does not have the right to approve the intentional ending of your life. For example, your proxy cannot authorize that you be given an intentional drug overdose or lethal injection.

Who Needs an Advance directive And Why Should You Get it Regardless Of Your Age?

Contrary to what most people think, an advance directive is not just for older people because, at any given time, a medical crisis could leave you incapacitated to make your own health decisions. Even if you are hale and hearty now, planning for your future health care is a crucial step towards ensuring that you get the proper and precise medical care you would want, should you become unable to speak for yourself and family members or your doctors are making the decisions for you.

For certain people, staying alive as long as it is possible medically is the most important thing to them. An advance directive can ensure that this is possible. While for some people, they have a clear idea about when they no longer want to prolong their life. Getting an advance directive can help ensure that too.

Your views and decisions about how to handle some situations could differ in years to come. An advance directive allows you to change your instructions as you deem fit at any stage of your life especially if your viewpoint changes.

Why Is An Advance Directive Important And How It Helps You Plan Ahead Of A Health Crisis/decision-making?

An advance directive helps you to specifically choose who decides on your behalf should you be in a critical condition. Now many would say, oh I’m young and fit or I’m old and ill, I do not think I need an advance directive. Here are two illustrations of what could happen if you did not choose a reliable or trusted person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer is a thirty-year-old graduate student who was involved in a ghastly accident. Before the incident, she had casually discussed her health choices with her parents, but never signed them as her advance directive officially. Jennifer’s parents rush to the emergency room to make decisions about her health care but are unable because the law in their state does not have them as her priority listing of decision-makers.

Mary’s Story

Alexander and Mary are married to two children- 17-year-old Earl and 21-year-old Winifred. Driving home from a function, Alexander and Mary were involved in an accident. Alexander is killed and Mary is in critical condition. Mary’s sister, Alexis, who is very close to Mary and with whom Mary has always discussed her health care plans, rushes to the hospital to get information about her sister’s condition. Upon reaching the hospital, she was told the law prohibits such disclosure. Instead, the information was shared with the children, Earl and Winifred, who under the law, had the right to make decisions for their mother.

Unfortunately, both have not seen in a while and never agree on anything together. Before any action can be taken, the law requires agreement between them. The delay in authorizing a treatment plan for Mary worsened her condition. This could have been avoided if she had legally named her sister using the durable power of attorney for health care. An advance directive helps you avoid unnecessary suffering and relieve your caregivers of the burden of making decisions in moments of crisis. It also helps reduce disagreement or confusion about the choices you would have wanted or would want your relatives or friend to make on your behalf.

Where Can You Get An Advance Directive?

An Advance directive can be gotten from a hospital representative such as a chaplain or social worker. You do not need to have a lawyer to get an advance directive. Talk to your healthcare provider about filling out the form when you are still healthy in case you become very sick and unable to make medical decisions for yourself. You may also locate a state-approved advance directive form based on the resource list below.

In conclusion, before creating an advance directive, you should talk to your loved ones, health provider, and any trusted person you may want to choose as your proxy about your fears, wishes, and illness if you have one. They are the ones who will help you when you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. An advance directive should be gotten by everyone irrespective of your age. It only shows how much you care for yourself, and others around you.

Advance directives Information & Forms

State Public Health Information & SourcesState Provided Forms
Alabama Alabama Medicaid/Public HealthLiving Will and Health Care Proxy
Alaska Alaska Division of Public HealthAdvance Health Care Directive: Care Planning Packet
Arizona Arizona Attorney General Complete Care Planning Packet 
Arkansas Department of HealthAdvance Care Plan Form
California California Secretary of State PDF & StepsRegistration of Written Advance Health Care Directive
Colorado Colorado Department of Public Health & environment MEDICAL DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTHCARE DECISIONS (MDPOA)
ConnecticutConnecticut State Department of Mental Health and Addiction ServicesAdvance Directives from
District of Columbia District of Columbia Hospital AssociationAdvance Directives from
Florida Florida Agency for Health Care AdministrationLiving WillDesignation of Health Care Surrogate
GeorgiaDepartment of Human Services Division of Aging Services Advance directive for health care
HawaiiHawaii Health.govAdvance Directive Form
IdahoIdaho Department of Health & Welfare Advance Care Planning Worksheet
Illinois Department of Public HealthLiving Will
Indiana Indiana State Dept. of HealthAdvance Directives Information Packet
IowaDept. of Health Living Will
KansasDepartment of Health & environmentAdvance Directives
KentuckyOffice of the Attorney GeneralLiving Will
LouisianaGovernor’s Office of elderly Affairs Advance Directive Forms
MaineMaine HealthAdvance Directive Forms
Maryland Office of the attorney General PLANNING FOR FUTURE HEALTH CARE DECISIONS
MassachusettsMass.govLiving Will
MichiganMichigan.govAdvance Directives for Health Care
MinnesotaDepartment of HealthHealth Care Directive Form
Mississippi North Mississippi Health ServicesDurable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Living Will
MissouriDepartment of Health & Senior ServicesDurable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Directive & HIPAA Privacy Authorization Form
MontanaDepartment of Justice Advanced Directives
Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services Surrogate Decision-Making Forms
Nevada Department of Health & Human Services Advance Directive Registration Agreement
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human ServicesAdvance Care Planning Guide
New Mexico Department of HealthHealth Care Decision
New York NewDepartment of Health Health Care Proxy
North Carolina Department of HealthLiving Will
North Dakota Legistative Branch Advance Directive
Ohio Franklin County Probate CourtPower of Attorney & Living Will Declaration
Oregon Oregon.govAdvance Directive for Health Care
Pennsylvania Department of Health Combined Mental Health Care Declaration & Power of Attorney Form
Rhode Island Department of HealthLiving Will 
South Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Office of AgingDECLARATION OF A DESIRE FOR A NATURAL DEATH
South Dakota Department of Health Advance Directives
Tennessee Department of HealthAdvance Directives for Health Care
Texas Department of Health & Human ServicesDirective to Physicians and Family or Surrogates Form
Utah Department of Health & Human Services Provider Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Utah Life with Dignity Order
Vermont Department of HealthAppointment of a Health Care Agent
Virginia Department of HealthVirginia Advance Directives for Health Care with Sections for Medical, Mental, and End-of-Life Health Care
Washington Aging and Long Term Support AdministrationAdvance Directive for Health Care
West VirginiaLegislature’s Office of Reference & InformationSubstitute Decision Maker
Wisconsin Department of HealthPower of Attorney 
Wyoming Equal Justice WyomingAdvance Health Care Directives
These links are provided for informational purposes only and are not to be construed as legal or healthcare advice from Patient Orator Inc.

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