An advance directive for health care is a powerful document that will allow you to express your decisions regarding your end-of-life care ahead of time. Advance directives may be the only way to express and enforce your wishes concerning your care if you became too hurt or sick to communicate.
Common issues covered by advance directives include:
- The use of breathing machines, tube feeding or dialysis to prolong life
- Do-not-resuscitate orders and organ donation
- Treatment for extreme medical conditions
Advance directives can also relieve the burden on your family by giving them guidance and specific instructions in a legally enforceable form.
A related document is a durable power of attorney which allows an attorney to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you unavailable to act on your own due to travel, illness, or incapacity, among other things.
A common example of a useful power of attorney is when a real estate transfer document needs to be signed. If one spouse is too ill to sign, the other spouse may not be able to sell or transfer the property unless the ill spouse gives someone a power of attorney.
Many families avoid the conversation regarding advance directives and powers of attorney until it is too late because the conversation may be stressful, awkward, or threaten an aging relative's independence. The conversation regarding advance directives should not threaten anyone's independence but rather empower a person to make the decisions regarding their own care while they still have the ability to do so.
Source: USA Today, "Long-term care 'conversation' can be hard to start," Janice Lloyd, 3/2/11