Advance directives are also called a durable power of attorney, living will, healthcare power of attorney and medical power of attorney. Whatever it's called, this form provides some information about your wishes for end-of-life care and typically names someone to make decisions about medical care on your behalf if you're unable to do so yourself. Find out more about advance directives below, including how they're important in any hospice situation.
An advance directive is a legal document that declares your wishes about potential end-of-life care. While the requirements are slightly different for various states, in general, these documents include your name and the date you complete it along with a testament that you are of sound mind and are creating the document willingly. The document also indicates whether you want certain life-sustaining procedures withheld. For example, the advance directive form for Louisiana provides two options:
Advance directives also include an option for naming your official healthcare proxy, who's the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you're incapacitated. Most documents provide space for you to leave other instructions for this person so they're better able to make those decisions according to the letter and spirit of your wishes.
Without an advance directive, medical providers and your next of kin may make the decisions about what care is provided to you. The person making the decisions may not be the person you'd most trust with those decisions. And they may have to make them without knowing what you might want. An advance directive ensures your wishes are recorded and your loved ones don't have to play guessing games about how to move forward.
Every adult should have an advance directive. No one can predict what might happen in the future, and someone of any age could be involved in an accident or otherwise find themselves in a situation where someone else has to make medical decisions for them.
But older adults and those for whom hospice care is likely in the near future should definitely create an advance directive and choose a healthcare agent.
Your healthcare agent is the person you name in your advance directive to make decisions on your behalf. This person is also sometimes called the medical power of attorney.
You must choose someone who's 18 years of age or older and can't choose your own healthcare provider or someone who works for your provider (unless they're also your relative). It's important to choose someone you trust who's willing and able to stand in this position for you. Someone who lives across the country, who's terrible at making decisions or who's afraid of hospitals, for example, may not be the best choice.
When you name someone as your healthcare agent, talk to them first to ensure they're comfortable taking on this responsibility. You should also discuss your wishes with them and not just wait for them to read the information in the advance directive at the time it's needed.
AARP provides links to free advance directive forms for every state. Find your state and download the form for it. You can complete some of these forms by typing into them online and printing them off. Others you may have to download and write on. You'll also find directions for how to complete many of the forms, so read them and follow them, as there are slight differences for each state.
Once you have a completed advance directive, you should make some copies of it. Keep one copy for yourself so you can reference it. Give another copy to the person you designated to make decisions on your behalf. They can refer to the document if they ever need to make those decisions.
You might also provide copies to anyone else who's important in your life so they're aware of your choices. That can include other loved ones and friends. Ask your healthcare providers if you can put a copy of the form on file with their office. You might want the form in your records with your primary care physician, specialists you see and the hospital you're most likely to go to in an urgent situation. You can also ask your assisted living community or hospice care provider to put the document on file.