What is an advance health care directive and do you need one?

Estate planning can include many different documents that will make your wishes known. While many of us have wills in our estate plans, many of us overlook the importance of having an advance health care directive. What exactly is this document and why should you have one?

An advance health care directive, also known as a living will, lets your loved ones and doctor know your wishes for medical treatments. This document can include information on what type of medical care you would like to receive at the end of your life as well as if there are any medical treatments you do not wish to have. This document is vital because you may not be able to let others know your wishes when you become ill.

Even if you have discussed your wishes for medical treatments with your doctor or family, having an advance health care directive is a legal document that will make sure your wishes are honored. This document can address what care you want to receive if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or whenever you receive medical care and something happens where you cannot voice your wishes. 

Many advance health care directives include whether or not you want your organs donated, if you will receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation, what surgical procedures you do or do not want as well as what diagnostic tests to perform and what type of life-sustaining medical care you want and for how long. This can include the use of a ventilator to help you breathe along with other life saving medical procedures.

Your advance health care directive should address if there are any medical treatments you absolutely don’t want along with any other important information your family, loved ones and medical professionals should know. The document can also state if you wish to stay in a hospital, nursing home or at home during this time. 

After creating your advance health care directive, you should be sure to discuss your wishes with your loved ones. You should also give your doctor and other health care providers a copy of the document. This will make sure everyone knows your wishes and there are no surprises. 

End-of-life planning can be very emotional and difficult. However, making these decisions now will make life much easier in the future. 

Source: State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General, “Advance Health Care Directive: What’s Important to You,” Accessed June 2, 2014

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