Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and states instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.
Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function—to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.
Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.
A critical decision when writing this document is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions such as if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.
Once you choose an agent, review your directive with your agent. This will give your agent guidance if and when the need for your agent to step in arises.
The agent’s role in the directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your postmortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.
After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.
With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.
Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”