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Advance Directives Explained

Why an advance directive is so very important!

An Advance Directive allows you to communicate your health care preferences when you no longer have the capacity to make your own decisions. An Advance Directive is a legal document, such as a living will or a power of attorney for health care.

If you're able to communicate your medical preferences, then you will do so. But if you lose the ability to state your wishes, your advance directive allows you to name someone to make important decisions for you.

The most important benefit of an advance directive is its power as a communication tool. Discuss your advance directive with your doctor and make your wishes about your own health care known to your family.

Once you have completed the advance directive, make some copies and give one to the person you chose to make the decisions for you. And if your loved one is hospitalized, make sure a copy is in his/her medical records.

Here are a few terms that will be useful to you:

  1. Health Care Directives - a document that allows you to state in advance your wishes, regarding the use of life-prolonging procedures. Like a living will, in most states it will take ONLY EFFECT WHEN you are not able to make decisions on your own.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions - allows you to appoint a person of your choice to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are incapacitated. In most states this document will take effect only when you're not able to make decisions on your own. 
  3. Living will: A document that states your end-of-life decisions in the event you have an incurable illness or injury.
  4. Power of attorney: a legal document where one person (the principal) authorizes (the agent) to act on his/her behalf. Financial powers of attorneys allow your agent to make decisions regarding your property. Healthcare powers of attorney allow your agent to make decisions regarding your health care needs.
Your advance directive should be valid in any state. Because of state-to-state differences, however, it is better to have it witnessed and notarized. And remember that in most states your advance directive will go into effect only if you are no longer able to communicate your own wishes. Also, unless you revoke it, it will stay in effect as long as you live.

About the author:

William G. Hammond, JD is a nationally known elder law attorney and founder of The Alzheimer?s Resource Center. He is a frequent guest on radio and television and has developed innovative solutions to guide families who have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer?s.

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