How to set up an advance healthcare directive - Dr. Neil Wanger | UCLA Health
Senior Planning: Preparing Advance Directives
People of all ages who have specific wishes about how their medical care should consider creating advance directives.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Preparing for life-threatening situations is important for everyone, particularly for seniors with health issues and those who have strong feelings either way about life-sustaining treatments. The only way to make sure that your wishes will be met if you are ever unable to voice them is by creating advance directives that spell out your health decisions.
Types of Advance Directives
Advance directives are legal documents that pertain to your health care wishes when you are unable to make these decisions for yourself due to illness or impairment.
Having your wishes in writing lets your family know how you want to be cared for if you are seriously ill or at the end of your life and they also make it less likely that family members will argue about what they think you want. For your peace of mind, advance directives name the person you want advocating for you if,and only if, you are unable to do so. Some important documents to consider include:
- A living will.This is a very important document for everyone, but especially those with senior health conditions. A living will has nothing to do with who gets what after you die — it states what kind of medical care you want and when. A living will specifies whether you want to be kept on life support under certain circumstances, such as if you are in a prolonged coma or when there is no brain activity, or if you want a feeding tube if you are terminally ill and can no longer eat. It states the general types of conditions under which you want measures to be taken to prolong your life or not.
- A do not resuscitate order (DNR).This document states whether you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to be undertaken to attempt to bring you back to life if you are no longer breathing or if your heart stops beating.
- A durable power of attorney for health care.This document legally designates another person of your choosing to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to because of loss of consciousness or severe impairment. This person can make decisions about issues that may not be covered by the more general living will.
- A durable power of attorney (DPOA).This document allows you to appoint a person to make decisions regarding your property and finances, not your health care. This person will have access to your bank accounts, your home, and other possessions, and has permission to make decisions and sign documents on your behalf if you cannot.
Getting Advances Directives Drawn Up
How to go about drafting these documents depends on where you live and which advance directives you choose to have. Meeting with an experienced elder law attorney is an excellent choice, as he can draw up these documents for you and advise you of any other legal preparations, as well as Medicaid eligibility and estate planning.
There are options for completing these forms on your own. Advance directives, specific forms, and laws vary from state to state. Ask your doctor or visit a senior center for forms and information. State offices on aging and your state health department are also good resources for learning about your state’s requirements. There are also computer software programs available to assist you with preparing your advance directives.
The most important steps are making sure these forms are filled out correctly, signed, notarized, and given to the appropriate people. Your hospitals, doctors, and family members should have copies of these important documents.
Making Important Decisions
Before drawing up these documents, think about what you really want out of both life and death. Ask the person you consider to be the most trustworthy and capable to be your power of attorney. This person must act in your best interests. Be specific about your requests, understand the consequences of what you choose, and be at peace with them. Note that you can change choices at any time simply by completing new forms.
Senior health and end-of-life care topics are difficult conversations at any age, but they’re always important to have. They eliminate confusion and stress during what will be an already emotional time — think of taking these steps as just another way of caring for your family and yourself.
Video: What Are Advance Directives?
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