Getting the Most out of your Healthcare Directive

Even with so much increased publicity in recent years about the importance of choosing a healthcare agent and documenting our wishes for medical treatment at the end of life, only about one-third of adults have prepared a healthcare power of attorney or living will.

Every adult, no matter how young and vigorous, needs to select the person who will have authority to speak to doctors and care providers on her behalf, when she is unable to do so.  And we should all prepare a living will or other advance directive to provide guidance about our believes and preferences when we are unable to make or communicate decisions about our treatment.

Even those of us who HAVE prepared the documents may not be getting the maximum benefit from them.  A healthcare power of attorney that is locked in a safe deposit box, or hidden in a home safe won’t do us any good if our agent can’t find it .  It is important to give copies of that document to the agent, as well as your doctors, care providers and managed care plan.

Finally, our thoughts about end-of-life treatment tend to change over time, along with the changes to our health and our perception of what has happened with friends or family members.  The ABA Commission on Law and Aging recommends that we review our selection of an agent and the preferences in our Advance Directive whenever any of the “Five D’s” occurs:

  • Every new Decade of your life
  • After the Death of someone close to you
  • After a Divorce
  • After any significant Diagnosis
  • After any significant Decline in functioning

Go to the Commission’s Health Decisions Resources webpage,  for resources to help  advocates and consumers, as well as attorneys, assist in discussions and decisions about advance care planning.

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