QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
WHAT IS AN ADVANCE DIRECTIVE (LIVING WILL)?
An advance directive or living will is a legal document that enables you to provide instructions for your health care should you ever be unable to make those decisions yourself. By creating a directive, you provide written instructions to your family and doctors about what kind of care you would or would not want to have under various circumstances.
You may also choose a health care representative. A health care representative is a person you designate to insure that your instructions will be carried out. Your representative will also be able to make decisions that are not specifically described in your advance directive.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING AN ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
Like most of us, you may feel uncomfortable thinking about serious illness and the possibility of becoming incapacitated. Yet if this happens, someone will have to make vital health care decisions for you. Isn't it better that person be you (through your advance directive and/or your health care representative).
By planning ahead you will spare your loved ones the mental anguish of having to guess what care and treatment you would want.
In addition, even if you have discussed your wishes with your family, doctors and other health care providers are not obligated to abide by these wishes.
Thus, in the absence of an advance directive, a family may have to engage in a lengthy and expensive legal battle to implement the health care decisions of a loved one.
WILL HAVING AN ADVANCE DIRECTIVE RESTRICT MY ABILITY TO MAKE MY OWN HEALTH CARE DECISIONS?
No. Advance directives and health care representatives are used only if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
CAN I MAKE CHANGES TO MY ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
Yes. You can make changes at any time, but it is important to remember that any such change should be made with the same care and deliberation which you exercised in creating your original directive.
WITH WHOM SHOULD I DISCUSS MY ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
You should discuss your wishes with your family, the health care representative whom you intend to designate and your family physician to insure that they truly understand your wishes. A health care directive can never clearly cover every possible situation which may arise and will never prevent or relieve the uncertainty, confusion or guilt that your family members and/or health care representative may experience unless you discuss your feelings and wishes with them.
WHERE DO I GO TO OBTAIN AN ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
The standard advance directive for health care is available from a number of different places such as social service agencies and health care providers. It is often wise to speak with an Elder Law attorney about your directive in order to insure that the directive truly reflects your values and objectives.