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Take Charge of Your Destiny: The Importance of Advance Directives

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Although it may be tough to think about, it’s important to consider what would happen if you become unable to make decisions for yourself due to incapacity or illness. With National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, we’re here to raise awareness about the importance of having advance directives.

Advance directives tell your doctor and caregivers what kind of care you would like to receive if you become unable to communicate your wishes. If that should happen to you, making decisions about your medical care will be easier if you've previously identified someone to speak on your behalf.

When Should I Make Advance Directives?

We encourage everyone to make their wishes known now, before an accident or illness could occur and you’re in a situation where you are rushed to make decisions.

How Does an Advance Directive Help My Loved Ones?

Too often, when loved ones are left guessing what should be done, the result is guilt, uncertainty and arguments. By making your wishes known, you can help your loved ones feel more comfortable with your choice of care.

What Are the Types of Advance Directives?

There are two types of advance directives: a living will and a designation of health care surrogate form. Both forms can be changed at any time, and it's a good idea to review them periodically.

What is a Living Will?

A living will tells your medical team and your family what treatments you want to receive or refuse, and under which conditions.

A living will is enacted only when your attending physician and a consulting physician determine that you're unable to make your own medical decisions and are unlikely to regain this ability, as well as being in a terminal persistent vegetative state, an end-stage condition, or in any other condition that you specified in your living will.

Am I Required to Have an Advance Directive?

No, there's no legal requirement to have an advance directive. However, if you haven't made an advance directive, your health care decisions may be made for you by a court-appointed guardian; your spouse; your adult child; your adult sibling; an adult relative or a close friend. The person making decisions for you may or may not be aware of your wishes. When you make an advance directive, discuss it with your loved ones so they're aware of your wishes.

Getting Started

You can view the forms needed to complete your advance directives here. Please note that you must have two adults witness your directives, and only one of them can be a spouse or blood relative. Also, your designated health care surrogate cannot sign your advance directives.

Can I Change My Mind After I Write My Advance Directive?

Yes, you can change or cancel an advance directive at any time. Your changes should be written, signed and dated. In fact, it's a good idea to review your directives periodically and if changes are made, be sure to provide your primary care doctor with a new copy.

Next Steps

Once you've created your advance directives, let members of your immediate family, especially your health care surrogate, know about them and where they're located.

Be sure to also bring a copy of your advance directives with you if you're admitted to the hospital.

Planning for the future is never easy, but advance directives ensure your wishes are carried out if you become unable to make sound decisions about your health care — and create peace of mind for both yourself and your loved ones. To learn more about advance directives, click here.

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