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Do you really need an advance health directive?

by Shannon Lee

Choosing an advanced health directive will save your adult children and caregivers the burden of deciding on your end-of-life care. A good estate attorney can help you choose which health directives are right for your medical situation.

An Advance Health Directive Offers Peace of Mind

Talking about health directives, living wills, and other end-of-life issues is not the way anyone wants to spend an afternoon, but it is necessary to handle those legal issues before the worst happens. No matter your age or health condition, there is no better time than now to start cultivating the peace of mind that comes with having all of your affairs in order.

Legal health directives take the burden of end-of-life decisions from the shoulders of your adult children and caregivers. By putting your wishes in writing, an advanced health directive can spare them the most difficult choices about your health care.

Do You Really Need an Advance Health Directive?

Anyone over the age of 18 can have an advance health directive. You don't have to have a chronic or terminal illness to work out a health directive--in fact, it's best to do the paperwork before you find yourself in a serious medical situation.

There are several ways to put health directives in place. Here are the most common:

  • Living Wills. A living will is a document that makes it clear what treatments you want to have, and what life-sustaining measures you want taken--or not--in the event of an emergency situation. Living wills include directives for, among other things, tube feeding and breathing on a respirator.
  • Power of Attorney. A medical power of attorney, sometimes known as a durable power of attorney for health care, puts someone else in charge of your medical decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. The medical power of attorney controls only what happens to you in a medical situation. However, it is not the same as a power of attorney that gives someone else control over other parts of your life, such as financial affairs.
  • "Do Not Resuscitate" Order. Also known as a DNR, this order tells the medical staff not to perform CPR or use other measures to restart your heart if it stops or if you stop breathing.

An Estate Attorney Can Help

Each state has different laws concerning advance directives. Though it is easy to obtain a living will form online, there is no guarantee that such a document would hold up if challenged. An estate attorney can help you decide which health directives are right for you, and can give you advice on choosing someone to administer your medical power of attorney.

Advance Health Directives Mean Peace of Mind

When you have written health directives in place, make certain your doctor and health care facility has a copy. Give a copy to all family members, including adult children and caregivers, and request that your attorney keep one on file as well. Don't simply lock it up in a box and hope your family members know where to find it. Make absolutely certain they have a copy.

With your wishes spelled out in writing, your family should never have to question whether they made the right choice concerning your health care. Advance health directives provide peace of mind for everyone involved.