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April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day to highlight the importance of advance healthcare planning. We make it easy for our clients by including an Advance Healthcare Directive (AHD) in our comprehensive Living Trust package that also includes a Power of Attorney.

What is an Advance Healthcare Directive?

An AHD is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken in regard to his/her health in the event of incapacitation or illness. People should be appointing a trusted person to make these important healthcare decisions for them, but healthcare planning also includes long-range thinking about important lifestyle issues, such as whether to remain at home or opt for nursing care, Hail-Mary lifesaving efforts vs. enlisting the help of hospice care when people are clearly in failing health.

AHDs on the rise

While we’d all like to think that we could make our own decisions, the reality is that the majority of us will have at least a temporary period when we are unable to communicate our healthcare wishes. Older people are most likely to use AHDs, but every adult needs one. We’re all vulnerable to accidents or injuries that will leave us incapacitated, even if only temporarily.

Half of those over 65 admitted to hospitals are unable to make decisions for themselves. Yet the message about AHDs seems to be working: Among Americans over age 60, the proportion who had AHDs when they died rose to 72% percent in 2010 from 47% in 2000.

If you have an AHD, inform your healthcare team and your family

In many cases, having a signed AHD hardly seems to matter. Stories abound of documents misplaced, stashed in safe deposit boxes or filed in lawyers’ offices. One woman’s AHD was finally found long after her death. Her family was clearing out the family home, preparing it for sale and found their mother’s AHD safely tucked into the Bible—the same place where she had kept her children’s birth certificates and other important family documents. Clearly, an AHD needs to be available when it’s time to be making critical decisions. The best advice: If you have an AHD: make your wishes known to everyone who may be involved in the decision-making process.

A few things to keep in mind when you’re creating your AHD

  1. Choosing an Agent or Proxy. An Agent is the person who will make decisions about
    your medical care if you become unable to make them for yourself. Make sure you choose someone who will honor your wishes, someone who is able to make decisions– often quickly. This person should be comfortable interfacing with the rest of your medical team on your behalf—doctors, nurses, therapists and eventually hospice, if it becomes necessary.
  2. When is the best time to create an AHD? When you come of age, at 18, then at intervals—30, 40, 50, etc. Other key milestones to are when you marry, have children, retire or are diagnosed with a serious illness.
  3. Make sure your entire team understands your wishes. The decision of treating or not treating is based on the doctor’s assessment of your medical condition. Doctors may ignore the instructions if they consider them to be medically inappropriate or if they go against their consciences. Discuss your wishes with your providers, make sure your doctors are willing to support them, and then document your wishes.
  4. An AHD doesn’t mean “do not treat”. It can describe both the treatment you want and what you don’t want. Ending life-saving or life-prolonging care is only executed when there is no hope of recovery.
  5. Concerns about Emergency Care. If you are terminally ill and do not want to be resuscitated, consider an out-of-hospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. Share this information with your family and medical team; making sure that everyone understands your wishes is the best way to ensure that they will be carried out.

At DP Legal Solutions, we include an Advance Healthcare Directive and a Power of Attorney in our comprehensive Living Trust package. We prepare the legal documents, and most of our clients tell us they’re surprised at how easy the process was. Schedule an appointment today to talk with one of DP Legal Solution’s Living Trust specialists.