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Why Are Advance Directives Important

September 12, 2021

An advance directive allows your loved ones, a PSC caregiver and your doctors to make important medical decisions if you become unable to do so. Creating an advance directive can help improve the quality of your future health care, while easing the burden on your family. Here’s what you need to know.

What Are Advance Directives?

An advance directive is a legal document that will help your family and your health care team make medical decisions if you can’t make them yourself due to a temporary or permanent illness or injury. 

The most common types of advance directives are the living will and the medical power of attorney

A living will is used at the end of life when a person becomes either terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This type of advance directive explains what medical treatment the person would want or not want to receive, for example, dialysis, tube feedings, and life support. 

A medical power of attorney is a legal document in which you name an individual, known as a health care agent or proxy, to make your health care decisions if you become unable to speak for yourself. Before a medical power of attorney can be used to guide medical treatments, your physician must certify that you are unable to make decisions on your own.

Who should be given medical power of attorney in an advance directive?

An advance directive gives your health care agent the legal authority to make the same medical decisions that you could have made if you were able to decide for yourself, such as:

  • What drug treatments to pursue
  • What doctors and facilities to visit
  • What tests to run
  • When and if you should undergo surgery
  • Whether to disconnect life support.

Your doctor and other health care providers are required by law to honor your agent’s decisions and provide them with the same information they would give you.

You can give medical power of attorney to any person you trust, who understands your values, and who will act in your best interest. It can be your child, your spouse, your sibling, your parent, or a friend. Most importantly, your proxy should be someone who is: 

  • Aware of your attitudes regarding health, illness, and death
  • Informed about your medical treatment preferences 
  • Able to adhere to your wishes and values
  • Ready to discuss medical care and end-of-life issues with you
  • Willing to be your advocate if disagreement over your care arises.

You may also consider appointing an alternate health care agent who will take over if your proxy is unable to carry out the job. However, you are not allowed to have two proxies, as this could potentially create confusion and conflicts between the agents.

Who is not eligible to serve as a proxy?

Your doctor and your health care provider are not eligible to serve as your proxy. The same applies to the witnesses on your health care proxy document.

Below, we explain the importance of having an advance directive.

Why Are Advance Directives So Important?

It’s not possible to predict when an unexpected medical situation will occur. By planning in advance, you will ensure to get the medical care you wish while relieving your loved ones of making major medical decisions during difficult moments. 

Here are some of the main benefits of having an advance directive in place: 

  • An advance directive helps you think about the goals for your health and health care and allows you to prepare for unexpected medical situations.
  • An advance directive ensures that your wishes regarding your health care are carried out, even if you become unable to communicate them. 
  • The document ensures the people you love can make decisions for you.
  • Completing an advance directive helps bring your family together and provides comfort that they are following your wishes should they need to act on your behalf.
  • It helps minimize confusion and disagreements regarding your medical care.
  • An advance directive allows your doctors to better understand your wishes when it comes to health care. 
  • It allows your personal aide to take the necessary steps while caring for you.

Read on for some tips on what you need to keep in mind when creating an advance directive.

Other Points to Know about Advance Directives

Having an attorney to help with your advance directive is a wise choice

All states and the District of Columbia have laws about advance directives. Because these laws differ from state to state, it is important to be aware of the specific requirements of writing legal advance directives in your state. In addition, each state has different forms and requirements for creating legal documents and, depending on where you live, a form may need to be signed by a witness or notarized. That’s why it’s recommended to have an attorney who will help you create an advance directive and make sure you’re complying with your state’s laws.

Advance directives are a work in progress

You can modify, update, replace, or cancel your advance directive in accordance with state laws at any time, as long as you are capable of making your own decisions. It is recommended to create a new document approximately every ten years or after important life changes. You should also revise your advance directive regularly to ensure that it continues to accurately reflect your situation and wishes. 

If you wish to make any changes, you need to create a new document and distribute copies to everyone concerned. Keep in mind that specific requirements for changing advance directives may vary by state. Make sure to keep track of anyone who has copies in case you decide to make changes.

Individuals with residences in multiple states may want to have advance directives in each state

In general, your health care documents, including your advance directive, are valid in other states. However, some states only accept health care documents from other states if they obey their own laws. If you have residences in multiple states, you should make sure to get information about each state’s policies on advance directives. It may also be a good idea to have a separate advance directive in each state. 

Ensure that your health care proxy has updated copies of your advance directive

While you can’t anticipate every medical situation that could occur, it’s important to maintain an open conversation with your health care agent and make sure that they have all the necessary information to make decisions on your behalf. You need to inform your proxy if your wishes or attitudes change, so that he or she can make the most suitable choices for you.

Give your advance directive to your doctor and other relevant medical care providers

Your advance directive should be an essential part of your medical record. Review your advance directives with your doctor to ensure that you have phrased your requests correctly in a way that makes sense to medical professionals and that there are no inconsistent requests, for example, refusing a treatment that contradicts your wish to receive another type of treatment. Your doctor will also tell you if there are aspects of your requests that they wouldn’t be able to honor due to personal or professional constraints.