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Six reasons why you and your loved ones should create advance directives

Written by Emily Shearer

Advance care planning is important for your peace of mind and for the people you love. You should begin care planning by creating an advance directive. An advance directive is a legal document that generally includes a living will and names a health care proxy. The living will states your wishes about your health care if you cannot speak for yourself and your health care proxy is someone you name to act on your behalf regarding your medical treatment if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Here are six reasons why you and your loved ones should create advance directives, even if you’re in good health.

  1. An advance directive is free and easy to create. Advance directives need to be in writing, but creating one comes at no cost and is generally an easy process. Click here to learn what free resources are available and how to download a free advance directive.
  1. An advance directive helps you think about the goals you have for your health and health care. Making decisions about end-of-life care isn’t easy. Some people value prolonging of life over all else, where others prioritize relief of pain and suffering or the effects of one’s care on loved ones. Whatever you decide, planning ahead can help you consider these important issues and communicate them with your friends, family and healthcare providers in a time and place where you can think things through clearly.
  1. An advance directive helps you prepare for unexpected medical situations. Many people think that they do not need to plan for their care until they reach the later stages of life. However, end-of-life situations can happen to anyone. Creating an advance directive ensures you are prepared for any medical situation that may come your way.
  1. An advance directive comforts your family and loved ones. Caregiving is hard. It’s stressful to make an end-of-life decision for someone you love if you don’t know their wishes. And, it can cause friction within a family if people’s views are not aligned. Completing an advance directive and sharing it with the people you love helps bring your family together and provides comfort to them that they are following your wishes should they need to act on your behalf. An advance directive is a legal document that doctors and hospitals must honor. The advance directive ensures the people you love can make decisions on your behalf. 
  1. An advance directive allows your doctors and other care providers to better understand you and your desires. By creating an advance directive and sharing it with your doctors, you are telling them that you are informed and involved in decisions about your care. This can reinforce a meaningful relationship between you and your doctors that, in turn, can serve as an important source of emotional support during difficult times.
  1. An advance directive speaks for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Most importantly, an advance directive makes sure you are treated the way you wish to be treated, no matter what the circumstance. (Of course, if your treatment priorities change, you can change your advance directive.) Click here for a Jon Stewart interview of Dr. Atul Gawande about the value of  sharing your end-of-life priorities with the people you love repeatedly and over time.

After you’ve created your advance directive, be sure to give a copy to your doctor as well as to the people you love. And, if you’re not ready to share it with the people you love, at least be sure they know where you keep it.

To learn about Medicare coverage of hospice care, click here.

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