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Why Everyone Needs a Health Care Directive

MP900430727Most people don’t have a health care directive for the same reason they don’t have a will: they just don’t want to think about becoming seriously ill and confronting their own mortality. However, not having a health care directive can put your family in the terrible situation of having to guess what your wishes are in the worst possible setting.

A health care directive is a document that directs what a person wants to happen, in the event of serious illness or dementia, explains Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document.” This is also the document used to direct what you want regarding end-of-life decisions and what you want to happen to your body after you pass away.

Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.

Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.

A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.

Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.

The agent’s role in the health care directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.

After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.

Consider how your family and loved ones would feel, if they had to make these decisions without having any idea of what your wishes were. Would they know what to do, or would they do what you want? Having a Healthcare Directive is a kindness to your family.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”