Expert Health Articles

Advance Directives

Niki Sidle MSW, LISW-SNiki Sidle MSW, LISW-S

Bridge Home Health & Hospice, Bereavement Coordinator

Many think of advance directives as something that people only complete when they have a life-limiting illness. In actuality, this is something that should be thought about early on in life. The decisions we make regarding health care and treatment preferences are extremely important and should not only be thought about, but discussed thoroughly with family members and health care providers.

In the event of an unfortunate situation where you are not able to make decisions for yourself, think about who you would feel comfortable with making these important decisions on your behalf. What if your family members have different opinions on care that should be provided? By completing advance directives, you are able to identify the person who will know your wishes and follow them through to the best of their ability, giving you and your family peace-of-mind during difficult times.

There are several kinds of advance directives to consider. Some of the most common of these include: living wills, health care power of attorney, legal wills, donor registration, and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR).

  • A living will contains your written wishes for medical care such as life-sustaining treatment and artificial/technologically supplied nutrition and is enacted when someone has a terminal condition or is in a permanently unconscious state, as determined by two physicians.
  • Health care power of attorney allows you to name an individual to be your advocate in the event you are unable to make your own medical decisions. This person will make important choices on your behalf, so they should be familiar with your beliefs regarding certain options that may arise.
  • Legal wills are the most commonly known form of “will” that people speak of. A legal will or testament is what an individual uses to name an executor of their estate and the distribution of property. Legal assistance is recommended for this kind of directive.
  • Organ donation involves the willful donation of organs, tissues and/or corneas at the time of death. This form can be completed at the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles or online. You are not bound to any decision and may change your mind at any time by completing new paperwork.
  • DNR is a physician’s order to notify your care team that you do not wish to receive lifesaving resuscitation. A thorough discussion with your physician must take place before a DNR order will be granted. This form is revocable, meaning you may change your mind and request resuscitation at any time by speaking with your physician and having a new order written. Comfort care and pain relief will always be provided regardless of DNR order status.

Once you have the forms completed, they must be witnessed or notarized to become legal documents. Quite often, individuals will have the forms notarized at their personal banking location. The forms should be distributed to those named as agents, your primary physician, local hospital and any specialists that may provide care for you. While it might seem like a difficult process to go through, advance directives can save you and your family a lot of stress. Think ahead and consider getting it done today.