National Health Care Decisions Day: Do You Know Where Your Advance Directive Is?

Estate Planning

National Health Care Decisions Day was recognized this year the week of April 16-22. The purpose of the week was to focus on weaving Advance Directives and end-of-life care planning “into the fabric of life1.” Although the week has passed, it is critical to understand the importance of Advance Directives.

What is an Advance Directive?  Often called a living will, it details a patient’s wishes for treatment when the patient is seriously ill and unable to make or communicate his or her own medical decisions.  Often, in the same or a separate document, it will name a health care agent or proxy, someone who has the authority to make decisions for the patient if the patient is unable to do so.

Yet despite the wide availability of Advance Directives, far too many of us have failed to implement them.  While we generally spend time thinking and planning for the future, such as buying a home or preparing for retirement, few of us have spent much time preparing for a possible medical emergency or serious illness.  If you haven’t prepared for such situations in advance, medical decisions may have to be made by family members, doctors or even a court, who are unlikely to have a good understanding of what you would want and what is important to you.  Even those of us who have implemented Advance Directives very often have not discussed them with our families or even the person named to make our decisions.

So if you haven’t implemented an Advance Directive, prepare one – the sooner, the better, before any health crisis arises and while you have time to think about it.  And if you have already implemented one, find it and review it.  Does it still represent your wishes?  Finally, talk about it with your family and your decision maker, as well as your doctor.  That’s the best step you can take to ensure your wishes for end-of-life care will be respected. If you need any assistance with this or have any questions, feel free to contact me or any of the attorneys in our Private Wealth Services group.

Some resources that are available to help you think through the issues and discuss them:

  1. http://health.harvard.edu/special-health-reports/living-wills-a-guide-to-advance-directives-health-care-power-of-attorney-and-other-key-documents
  1. The Conversation Project (http://theconversationproject.org)

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