What is a Health Care Directive?

Every adult should create an advance healthcare directive, a legal document that informs medical professionals and family members what treatment you would or wouldn’t like if you become incapable of speaking for yourself. While each state may differ in terminology for creating these documents, this article details some of the most commonly utilized plans.

Health Care Directives (also referred to as advance medical directives, personal directives or advance decisions) are legal documents that outline your wishes if you become incapable of communicating them on your own behalf. They name an agent (health care agent or durable power of attorney for health care) to make decisions in your behalf; in some states these two elements are combined into one document and known as an advanced directive or instruction directive.

Health care directives may include a living will, physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST or MOLST) and/or durable power of attorney for health care. Depending on your state of residence, some advance directives include one or two of these forms while others may combine all three.

Establishing health care directives can save time and money when dealing with conservatorship or guardianship proceedings involving court-ordered decisions made on your behalf by someone other than yourself. A health care directive also spares family members the hassle of making these difficult choices for you and can ensure your wishes are respected.

Before creating advance directives, it’s advisable to discuss your preferences with family, friends and a health care agent. Such discussions can provide comfort and peace of mind to loved ones as well as clarity regarding your wishes. Even without formal directives in place, it would still be prudent to have such discussions and nominate an agent who could speak on your behalf in case of serious illness or injury.

As your circumstances evolve, it’s essential that your advance directives reflect them. Rewriting advance directives may become necessary after marriage or having children; also review them if you move, change jobs, or if your health status or that of loved ones changes. For more information about creating and using health care directives, visit Beebe’s Health Care Directive Guide in English and Spanish; other useful resources include Five Wishes planning tool as well as Delaware Advance Directive Registry as well as PREPARE for Your Care by the National Institute on Aging funded by NIA.

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