Advance directives (sometimes called Living Wills) describe your preferences regarding treatment if you’re faced with a serious accident or illness. These legal documents speak for you when you’re not able to speak for yourself — for instance, if you’re in a coma.
Advance directives aren’t just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it’s important for adults of any age to have advance directives.
Advance directives are written instructions regarding your medical care preferences. Your family and doctors will consult your advance directives if you’re unable to make your own health care decisions. Having written instructions can help reduce confusion or disagreement.
Advance directives include:
A living will can’t cover every possible situation. Therefore, you may also want a medical POA to designate someone to be your health care agent. This person will be guided by your living will but has the authority to interpret your wishes in situations that aren’t described in your living will. A medical POA also might be a good idea if your family is opposed to some of your wishes or is divided about them.
Choosing a person to act as your health care agent is possibly the most important part of your planning. You need to trust that this person has your interests at heart, understands your wishes and will act accordingly. He or she should also be mature and levelheaded, and comfortable with candid conversations. Don’t pick someone out of feelings of guilt or obligation.
Your health care agent doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member. You may want your health care decision maker to be different from the person you choose to handle your financial matters. It may be helpful, but it’s not necessary, if the person lives in the same city or state as you do.
In determining your wishes, think about your values, such as the importance to you of being independent and self-sufficient, and what you feel would make your life not worth living. Would you want treatment to extend life in any situation? Would you want treatment only if a cure is possible? Would you want palliative care to ease pain and discomfort if you were terminally ill?
Although you can’t predict what medical situations will arise, be sure to discuss the following treatments. It may help to talk with your doctor about these, especially if you have questions.
You can also specify in your advance directives any wishes you have about donating your organs, eyes and tissues for transplantation or your body for scientific study.
Injury, illness and death aren’t easy subjects to talk about, but by planning ahead you can ensure that you receive the type of medical care you want. You also relieve your family of the burden of trying to guess what you’d want done. Be sure to discuss your wishes with your loved ones. Let them know you’re creating advance directives and explain your feelings about medical care and what you’d want done in specific instances.
Your advance directives should be in writing. Click here for a copy of the Maine Health Care Advanced Directive Form.
Once you’ve filled out the forms, give copies to your doctor, the person you’ve chosen as your health care agent and your family members. Keep another copy in a safe but accessible place. You might also want to keep a card in your wallet that says you have a living will and where it can be found. Click here for a wallet card.
As your health changes or your perspective on life changes, you might reconsider some of your advance directives. Read over your advance directives from time to time to see if you want to revise any of the instructions. You can change your mind about your advance directives at any time.
To revise your advance directives, you follow the same steps you used to create them. Get new advance directive forms to fill out. Discuss your changes with your friends, family and doctor. Then distribute copies of the new advance directives and ask everyone to destroy the earlier version.
If there isn’t time to redo the paperwork, you can always cancel your advance directive by telling your doctor and your family. Remember, a living will or medical POA goes into effect only if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself, as determined by your doctors.