The first conversation you need to have about advance care planning is with yourself. What treatment would you want to receive, or not receive, should you have an incurable or irreversible medical condition?
If you don’t make your wishes clear, someone else will have to decide for you, generally a spouse or other adult family member or members, and their choice may not be what you wanted. We’ve also all read about situations where the matter has ended up being decided in court.
By taking the time now to create an advance care plan, you can make sure that your personal values, choices and preferences are clearly known before a crisis occurs.
One of the conversations you should also have is with your personal physician and primary healthcare provider. Your doctor can provide information on the different life-saving and life-sustaining treatments that are available. You can also ask for explanations of treatments and procedures that may be confusing to you before you make any decisions. And this is your opportunity to make sure your doctor agrees with your directives. The law does not require a doctor to follow directives if he or she disagrees with them on a moral or ethical basis. Having this conversation will let you know where he or she stands.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to discuss the issue with your family and loved ones. This can be a difficult conversation. No one wants to talk about end-of-life issues. But this is your opportunity to discuss your decisions, your spiritual beliefs, and what makes life worth living for you. This can also be the time to decide who should be your healthcare agent. This is the person who can make a medical decision that isn’t an end-of-life issue should you be unable to do so. This should be someone you trust, someone who knows you well, and knows your values and the quality of life that is important to you.
Which brings me to the important document you will need for your advance care plan: the advance directive (also known as a “living will”).
This is the document that can guide medical decisions at the end of your life, such as in situations of terminal illness or “permanent unconsciousness.” While you don’t necessarily need an attorney to fill one out, the laws governing these documents do vary from state to state and can have different titles in different states. It is important to complete and sign an advance directive that complies with the laws in your state.
As part of your advance directive, you will be able to name a healthcare agent.
Then make sure you have completed the form correctly, that you have included all the necessary information, and that the document is properly witnessed.
Once completed, you should provide your doctor and your healthcare agent with copies. You should also store this form in a safe, yet easily accessible place.
While most people think of a safe deposit box as the place for important documents, it is not a good place to keep any document that may be needed immediately or in an emergency. Remember, only a person with whom you jointly rent a safe deposit box, someone who is a signatory on the box, or someone with a signed power of attorney can access your safe deposit box. Otherwise, it could take a court order to open the box and that takes time.
LegacyShield was designed to provide safe storage for your important documents, such as your advance directive. You can also designate who can have immediate access to all or some of your documents, making them easily accessible if and when needed. I urge you to consider LegacyShield. It helps you get the right information, in the right hands, at the right time. Your documents are safe, accessible and all in one place.