ESTATE PLANNING 101: Do I Need a Health Care Directive?
A health care directive is a written legal document that explains your wishes to other people about your health. You can name someone to make decisions for you if you are unable to decide for yourself. It allows you to identify an agent if you want someone make health care decisions for you.
A written directive is a tool you can use if your doctor determines that you cannot communicate your health care choices for yourself. Your written directive can state, in some circumstances, that you want someone other than your doctor to make decisions when you cannot make them yourself.
You do not have to have a health care directive, but by having one it helps to ensure your wishes are followed as you instructed. Anyone can still receive medical treatment even if they don’t have a written directive. Providers will listen to the people close to you about your wishes, but the most effective way to be sure your wishes are followed is to have it put in writing. To make a health care directive, you need to be over 18 years old.
There are pre-printed forms available for completing a health care directive, but you don’t have to use a form. But a health care directive must be in writing and meet specific requirements in order to be valid. Your directive needs to be signed by you or the person you are authorizing, and it needs to be notarized or have two witnesses. You can include the designation of an agent to make health care choices for you according to your instructions.
When you have completed and verified your written directive, it’s important that you inform the people closest to you and provide them with a copy. You may want to inform family members, your health care agents, and your health care providers. It’s a good idea to review and update it as your needs change. Be sure to keep the original copy of your health care directive in a safe place where it can be easily found by you and your family.
Before preparing or revising a written directive, it’s always a good idea to discuss your intentions and instructions with your doctor.