FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-01-28
It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. So while no one wants to contemplate his or her own death, the only way to protect loved ones from having to make what might be unbearable difficult decisions in their time of grief is to plan for what you want to happen at the end of your life.
Advance health care directives speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. This document allows you to spell out your preferences for end-of-life care so when the time comes your family and health care professionals will have a roadmap to follow as they make the choices that best align with your wishes.
How advance health care directives work
An AHCD, which spell out specific circumstances under which it is to go into effect, can be written in several ways with the goal to give guidance to others as they make health care decisions for you, should you be physically or mentally unable to make those decisions for yourself. In the first, you will use the AHCD to appoint a health care agent to make all health care decisions on your behalf, taking that power out of the hands of other family members or medical professionals who may not be privy to your wishes or are unable to honor them. In the second, rather than appointing a health care agent, you provide specific instructions that health care providers must follow under the terms of your AHCD. In the third, you appoint a health care agent and spell out the care you want to receive and the circumstances under which you want to receive it. No matter which option you choose, you must provide a clear statement of your wishes about when to provide, withhold or withdraw care; when to provide pain relief even if it may shorten your life; and how to handle other end-of-life issues, such as organ donation.
Misconceptions about AHCDs
There are several misconceptions about the use of AHCDs. One is that the document is absolutely necessary at the end of one’s life. Although this is not true, the directive gives clear instruction about a person’s wishes and avoids conflict that may come from the family’s varying beliefs. Another misconception is that AHCDs only instruct the health care providers on when not to provide treatment. An AHCD can state both what the person wants and does not want in terms of end-of-life health care. Some people believe that once you have named a health care agent, he or she will always have the final say in your treatment options. However, if you are physically or mentally able to make these decisions for yourself, you can override the directions of your proxy. Another common misconception is that only the elderly need AHCDs. Just remember, accidents can happen to anyone at any time — and illness doesn’t discriminate based on age. If you’re an adult not under the care of anyone else, you’re never too young to prepare an AHCD.
Creation of an AHCD
If you decide to create an AHCD, the language used in the document is of utmost importance. It must be clear and well stated and align with your wishes. A professional estate planning attorney can help you make a plan for all of your end-of-life legal needs, from drafting documents to establish power of attorney, crafting a will or establishing a trust, writing a legally binding AHCD and more.