Do I need an advance directive?

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Unsure if you need to outline your healthcare preferences and end-of-life wishes? The answer is yes, you do.  Too often, we wait for a crisis to discuss how we want our medical care to be directed. During these stressful times, there are many decisions that have to be made very quickly.  You can ease the stress, and make sure your wishes are known, by creating an advance directive.

An advance directive is a legal document that provides written instructions for the care of your health and finances in the event that you become temporarily or permanently incapable of making or communicating these decisions.

You need an advance directive even if you are you still young.  You could have a healthcare crisis or accident at any time, and your family may not know your wishes.  If you have children at home, advanced care planning isn’t just about covering medical decisions, it can help outline the safety nets you want in place for other people to take care of them.  It’s important to discuss these things with your parents, spouse and children.  Your views on what you want may differ from theirs, and it’s crucial that they know how you want your care carried out.

An advance directive is different than a will.  Your will only allocates where you want your resources and possessions to go. Your advance directive covers the healthcare decisions you want made.  Even if you are pretty sure that your family know what you would want in an emergency situation, they may struggle to make a decision in the moment.  They may want to do everything they can to save you, but if you don’t want those extreme measures taken, you need to let them know and have it officially documented in your advance directive.  Also, if you know there’s going to be discrepancies between family regarding things like organ donation, DNR orders, or extreme life-sustaining measures, the need to have legal documentation outlining your wishes also helps point to who your healthcare advocate should be.

Many report the belief that discussing end-of-life wishes with their family will upset them.  However, open and honest dialogue will help ensure your family knows exactly what you want.  Your wishes may be different from another family member’s, and that’s OK.  As long as you understand each other, and know where official documentation is filed, both you and your family can have peace of mind knowing decisions about your life and your care will be what you want.

You and your family may go through some anticipatory grief talking about these issues as nobody wants to think about their loved ones dying. However, making these decisions now can help relieve some of your family’s uncertainty, stress and grief in the midst of tragedy.  Talk to your local long-term care facility, your county social worker, or an attorney to help get started on the process.  It only takes a few minutes of advance preparation to avoid many stressful situations in the future.