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Here’s why you should make a plan now for what you want to happen later.

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Although it may be hard to think about a time when you can’t make health care decisions for yourself, planning now for end-of-life care better ensures you’ll receive health care treatment consistent with your wishes. And it makes difficult decisions for your family a little easier.

“In our society we place a high value on autonomy, being able to decide for ourselves what we feel is the right care choice in various situations. The advanced directive is just that … it gives directions in advance of what you would want done. This ensures that even if you can’t speak, we know what you would want and can carry out your wishes.”

-Michael L. Rolfsen, MD, FACP, Internal Medicine 

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning involves documenting your preferences for end-of-life care in writing through an instrument such as an advance directive or living will. It should also involve sharing your wishes with those closest to you. Doing this now makes it more likely your wishes will be honored, prevents family members from wondering if they “did the right thing” and provides health care providers with information about your preferences for life-sustaining measures if there is little likelihood of recovery.

What is an advance directive?

This is a legal document that specifies the name of the person you authorize to make decisions on your behalf. This person is called your health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care. He or she should be someone you trust to honor and carry out your wishes. The document may also specify what actions should be taken if you cannot make health care decisions for yourself.

What should you do with your advance directive?

Once your advance directive has been completed and signed, copies should be given to your health care proxy, health care providers, hospital and anyone else you feel should have the information. It’s a good idea to review your advance directive from time to time. If you make any changes, be sure to communicate those changes and provide a new document to the people who need to know.

What else should be part of your advance care plan?

In addition to creating an advance directive, it’s important to have a conversation with family members about what you would want to happen in the event of a life-threatening illness or injury. Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking to everyone in your family about this difficult subject, you should at least share your wishes with the person you designate as your health care proxy. He or she should know how you feel and should also know in advance that they will be responsible for acting on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 9, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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