On Monday, we discussed starting the conversation of end-of-life planning. Today, we’ll talk about some specific documents and setting up advanced directives: instructions that doctors, lawyers, and estate planners can use to make sure your wishes are realized.
Advanced Care Planning is the process of discussing your options and sharing your decisions about how you want to be treated at the end of your life should you not be able to speak for yourself. It also allows you the ability to choose a person or persons to speak on your behalf should you be unable to communicate your own wishes.
Developing Advance Directives
There are five parts to an advance directive in Arizona. Each individual may chose as many or as few of the documents to fill out, based on their values, medical conditions, and personal situation.
- Durable Health Care Power of Attorney. A health care power of attorney can be anyone you choose to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are ever unable to do so. This document also gives you the opportunity to decide which decisions the health care power of attorney, or agent, can and cannot make for you.
- Durable Mental Health Care Power of Attorney. This position is similar to the first one, but only has the ability to make decisions about your mental health care and nothing more. This agent may be the same person or a different person from the health care power of attorney. This can be a very important document if you have early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, or if you know that it runs in your family.
- Living Will. This document specifies to family, friends, and physicians what type of live-sustaining care you would like in the event of a serious illness or irreversible coma. To fill this document out in its entirety, it is recommended that you talk to your physician about your medical conditions and possible situations that could result from them. Your physician can tell you what your options are so you can make the best decision for you.
- Letter to My Representative. This is a letter that is given to the person you choose to be your power of attorney. It lays what that person’s responsibilities are, what they can and cannot do as your power of attorney, and other important information.
- Prehospital Medical Care Directive (Do Not Resuscitate). While it’s recommended that everyone over the age of 18 have a living will, a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) directive is not appropriate for all circumstances. This document informs emergency and medical personnel not to use life-saving measures such as CPR. Talk to your physician about whether a DNR is necessary for your situation.
There are many resources you can use to learn more about advance directives. Below are just a few places to start:
- Arizona Attorney General: This page has some more detailed information about life care planning as well as the five documents you can fill in if you chose not to write your own.
- Caringinfo.org: This .pdf answers many common questions about planning and various life-sustaining treatments.
- Put It In Writing by the American Hospital Association: This .pdf has more questions and has a glossary of terms to help you better understand the legalese.
When you are finished, you can give them your family members and physician, and also to the Arizona Advance Directive Registry.
It is a fact of life that we will all come to that day when forced to think about the end of our life. Most people avoid the subject, living life as if there is no end in sight. Like many difficult topics, we tend to put off any discussion to another day. Unfortunately, waiting until the last minute can be uncomfortable and distressing. If you wait too long then connections will be lost, questions unanswered and the burden of making important decisions will fall to the loved ones who most likely won’t even know what choices you would make. Remember, your choices and decisions are only as good as who you communicate them to; share them with your family, your physician and even your lawyer.