An advance directive is a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, often including a living will, made to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor.”
— The Oxford Dictionary
I think what intimidates people the most about end of life planning (besides the whole death aspect) is all of the confusing paperwork and language. As your doula through this death journey, it’s my job to make this easier for you. There are many types of advance directives: the health care proxy/durable power of attorney for health care, the living will, Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), do not resuscitate (DNR) orders and organ and tissue donation forms are all included in this umbrella term. In this post we will cover the health care proxy and the living will. The American Bar Association goes over the difference between these two in the perfect amount of detail.
Basically, the living will component of the Advance Directive covers how you want to be treated in certain medical situations. The health care proxy form (or otherwise known as durable power of attorney for health care) allows you to designate a person to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to express your preferences about medical treatment. This could be because you are unconscious or because your mental state is such that you do not have the legal capacity to make your own decisions. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering who you should bless with this rather hefty responsibility and how you might want to strike up a conversation with them about your medical wishes. The Conversation Project has created an amazingly helpful document HERE that covers all of the considerations and legalities involved with your choice. Yes, this is a legal document. No, in most states, you do not have to get it notarized. Please read through this document before you continue on to filling out your own form.
Get your Advance Directive by state here. Once you’re done filling out your form, give a copy to your health care proxy and any other family/friends you deem necessary, give a copy to your health care providers at your next visit, give a copy to your local hospital at your next visit, keep a copy in your 3-ring binder (inside a sheet protector) and also keep a copy in your magnetic file holder that I want you to put on your refrigerator. Why the big fridge magnet, you ask? Well, if an emergency were to occur, all of your essential documents will easily be found by EMS and loved ones. This is especially important for those nearing the end of life who have specific Do Not Resuscitate wishes.
The Advance Directive is not set in stone. You can update it whenever you feel the need. Just shred the old copies and replace them with updated versions. If you’re healthy, I recommend reviewing your end of life care plans annually. However, you may want to do it more frequently if any big life changes occur or if your health status changes.
Do you need help starting a conversation with the person you’d like to be your proxy? Well, I’ve got you covered, here is a step-by-step guide.
Okay, next time we meet up we will cover a more robust version of the living will.