Healthcare decisions are some of the trickiest decisions around, and often the most difficult ones must be made when we’re no longer capable of speaking for ourselves. This is where advanced directives and living wills come into play, defining what medical treatment you want or don’t want, and designating a proxy to speak on your behalf in the event that you can’t communicate to medical professionals.

Why go to the trouble of creating a living will or advanced directive?

Typically living wills are used for end-of-life care, but even the healthiest individuals can benefit from being prepared for the worst-case scenario, just in case they’re ever in a position to be put on artificial life support for a prolonged period of time.

The benefits of having a living will or advanced directive include preserving your rights, values, and choices about medical care if incapacitation occurs. Beyond that, it can save your health care expenses, and reduce the emotional burden family members that have to make a life and death decision.

What are the rules around living wills and advanced directives? 

  • It must be completed prior to a person’s incapacity.
  • It must be accessible in the event of incapacitation (i.e. do not keep it in a safe deposit box)
  • It must be shared to make your wishes known to designated health care proxy (the person that will make decisions on member’s behalf), family members, hospital and primary care physician.
  • Not all states have forms for a living will. Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York will allow a member to designate a health care proxy, but there is no standard form for living wills. It is recommended to consult an attorney in these states.
  • It can be changed at any time if the member changes his or her mind, and it only covers medical decisions in the event of incapacity. The form can be destroyed and another one made and shared with others.

What do I need to do to make a living will or advance directive?

  • There are state-specific forms to fill out, which you can find here.
  • Store in a safe but accessible place (not a safe deposit box), make copies for other people that will need to know the member’s wishes (proxy, clinicians).
    • For the tech-savvy, My Directives is a good website to complete and store your advance directive in the cloud and can be easily shared with others. Click here to check it out.
  • You’re going to need to start a conversation with your designated healthcare proxy and others to share your desires. This can be difficult, but some good conversation starters can include:
    • Relate a family experience: Do you remember what happened to (Family member name) last year? I do not want you to go through that with me. That is why I want to talk about this while we can.
    • This is an important, but difficult topic to discuss. But, I want to talk to you about this while I am able.
  • The American Bar Association has a Consumer’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning available to think through many issues and more ways to guide a conversation towards living wills between member and family. Click here to check it out.
  • If you’re a member of Pack Health, you can also ask your Health Advisor for help in preparing an advanced directive or living will. We’re here to support you every step of the way.

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