WHAT IS AN ADVANCED HEALTHCARE DIRECTIVE?

An Advanced Healthcare Directive (AHCD), also called a Living Will, is a document that lays out what medical care you should and should not receive once you are incapacitated. It does not deal with the distribution of your property upon your death; that is a generally covered by a trust.

While the topic of death can be uncomfortable and painful, it is an inevitable fact of life. Avoiding the tough decisions that surround your death not only makes end-of-life care more difficult for medical professionals, it can adversely affect your loved ones as well. Without an AHCD, those closest to you may not feel they can fully honor your end-of-life wishes, because they do not know what they are.

In fact, without an AHCD your end-of-life decisions will be made based upon the laws in your state. Luckily, with an AHCD you can designate an agent, such as your spouse, child, or other person close to you. This agent can communicate your end-of-life desires to medical professionals on your behalf.

How can an AHCD help me?

An AHCD is an invaluable tool to help your family and loved ones make the tough decisions regarding end-of-life care.

These can include, but are not limited to, whether you wish to use life-sustaining medical procedures such as a feeding or breathing tubes, dialysis, or surgery. You can also designate how long those procedures should last. For example, you could choose to use these modern medical miracles to prolong your life and give your family time to visit and say goodbye before switching to palliative care. Or, you could choose to immediately accept only palliative care and pass away peacefully without pain. The most important thing to understand is that there is no wrong choice, only your choice.

With an AHCD you get to decide how the end of your life looks and the manner in which you pass away, and these decisions are carried out through your loved ones. Your family’s grieving can be ameliorated by letting them know that they did the best they could for you; that they made the same decisions you would have made. It may give them a sense of closure, because they are not simply passively responding to heartbreak but taking proactive choices. Giving your loved one’s decisions to make, while guiding them to the decisions you want for yourself, is a way to help them grieve even if you are incapacitated.

How is this part of my larger estate plan?

An AHCD is only one part of the larger puzzle when it comes to death and dying. It does not deal with your physical assets like your home or property, and it doesn’t deal with the money in your bank accounts, in stocks, or buried in your backyard. But it does deal with the most central and sensitive question: How do you imagine your final moments? AHCD ensures that you are in control of this last, most important decision before you pass away.