What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

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There are a lot of things to consider when planning for the future. 

One thing to think about is what kind of health care you want if you become incapacitated. For example, if you become unconscious or comatose, and can’t make decisions for yourself, what rules should your caretakers follow when it comes to your health?

An advance health care directive – sometimes called a “living will” – is a way to put down in writing the instructions you’d like to be followed in case you become too sick to make decisions for yourself. It’s a legal document, but it’s one that you can put together for yourself. It’s a way for you to let people know what your priorities are in case you get sick.

It’s a good idea to put together a living will. Partly, so you don’t have to worry about what might happen to you if you get sick. But, also, so that your family and friends can have a clear understanding of what your wishes are.

Tips for your advance directive

These tips can help you get the most out of your advance directive.

It’s really about the conversation.

You should write an advance directive when you are healthy. You don’t know when it will be needed, so write it now. Afterwards, if you should become incapacitated, your doctors and your selected Health Care Agent (also known as your Medical Power of Attorney) will use your directions to make decisions about your medical care. This is why we all need to talk with the people who are close to us about our values, and, if we have a serious illness, about our own hopes and fears.

Make an appointment with your doctor.

Include your doctor in this discussion. They know you, and they know your health history. In fact, discussing living wills is something many doctors do on a regular basis.

Take advantage of this opportunity to ask questions about end-of-life treatments, and what to expect if you have complications related to your diagnosis. Health care providers can feel as uncomfortable as we do about starting the conversation, so don’t hesitate to ask your questions.

In some cases, Advance Care Planning is covered by health insurance. Advance Care Planning sessions may be with your doctor or with a staff member with specialized training.

Choose your Health Care Agent wisely.

A living will can involve choosing someone to make decisions on your behalf (i.e., your Health Care Agent). The right person to choose is not always your closest relative. Choose someone who understands you, will honor your decisions, and won’t be overwhelmed by talking to doctors at a difficult time. Then speak with those close to you about how you want them to be involved and who you have chosen as your agent.

Advance directive forms are available from many sources, and do not require the assistance of a lawyer. They can be changed at any time. Don’t forget the important step of filing your advance directive with you doctor and your hospital. You can find more information by visiting www.virginiaadvancedirectives.org.

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