Planning Ahead

Your loved one’s values and beliefs should guide medical choices, not the other way around. 

While none of us likes to think about life’s end, most of us do have ideas about what we would and would not like to have happen when death comes. Ideally, you were able to consider issues of advanced care planning with your loved one when he or she was well, and now you can help to clearly communicate with health care providers about what is most important to him or her. Answers to questions like: “At what point would your loved one wish to stop active treatment?” and “What is most important to him or her at this time?” can help to guide everyone intimately involved.

In general, advance care planning is when a patient determines and documents his or her goals and wishes for specific treatments based on possible medical conditions and personal preferences. Clinical care is shaped by the person’s choices in advance, so doctors can make appropriate decisions if the patient becomes unable to make decisions independently. By anticipating emergencies, you can avoid crisis decision making. Discussions with loved ones and health care providers are a part of this process. There are several important documents to consider for advance planning. If you have questions, please speak with your doctor, nurse, or social worker. 

Advance Directive - Simply defined as any statement, oral or written, made by a competent individual about his or her preferences for future treatment. This set of directives is very useful in the event that your loved one becomes unable to make decisions at the time of need. Ideally, this should be a written document. Most doctors have a standardized state form available. Once completed, it is important that your doctor(s) have a copy, and that you and your loved one keep your copy in a place where you can easily get it. 

Health Care Proxy - This is a method of giving a person legal power to make medical decisions for another person when they no longer can make decisions for themselves. The written form used to appoint the proxy is often called the “durable power of attorney for health care.” In many states this form is combined with the advance directive. 

Living Will - A legal document that states how we wish to be treated if we become incapacitated by illness, injury, or old age. It states whether or not we would like to be placed on life-support if our bodies cannot survive without such intervention. 

Last Will And Testament - A legal document that defines what will be done with property, money, and other possessions (including care for children) after one dies. Guardianship for young children or dependents may be a key element of a Last Will and Testament. If a Will is not written, the laws of the state will determine how wealth is passed along to family members. This can be a lengthy, and sometimes expensive, process.

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