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What is an Advance Medical Directive and Why Might You Need One?

Posted by Doreen Dann, RN, BSN, MHA, March 8, 2021

As much as we don’t like to think about it, most of us have a pretty clear idea of our preferences for medical care and end-of-life care. But have you communicated those preferences clearly with your loved ones? And would they all agree to take the steps you would want? What if they disagree, or what if the situation is too unclear to make a confident decision?

All of these reasons, and more, are why everyone needs an advance medical directive. This is true at all stages of life, but especially as we get older and serious illness poses a more significant risk. And of course, an accident can happen to anyone at any time.

In the event that you are incapacitated, an advance medical directive instructs the person(s) of your choosing on a variety of important matters. This type of legal plan actually incorporates three different actions that you can take.

  1. A living will instructs your loved ones and your doctors on the type of care you would prefer in a very serious situation. This document can outline your preferences on things like pain relief, artificial feeding, resuscitation, and end-of-life care.
  2. A healthcare proxy is someone chosen to handle your medical decisions for you. This type of arrangement is less specific than a living will but allows you to choose someone whom you trust to make these important decisions as they arise. If you choose a healthcare proxy, it is important to have regular conversations with this person regarding your values and preferences.
  3. A durable power of attorney designates someone to act on your behalf in a business and financial sense. This person can manage your money, pay bills, apply for disability benefits, handle insurance matters, and take care of other types of business when you are unable to do so.

Finally, it’s important to know that you can choose different people to fill the above roles. Consider your loved ones carefully and choose those that you trust to make the right decisions in a difficult time.

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