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How to Make Health Care Advance Directives

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As with everything in long-term care, it seems, paperwork is involved to make your wishes known. When you plan ahead and make your wishes clear, all parties involved will have a set roadmap to follow and transitions will be smoother. Take a look at the following sections to put advance directives into motion.

Find the forms for advance directives and living wills

To start the ball rolling for putting together your advance directives, your first (but not only) option is a state-approved form that tells your doctors, in either general terms or with specific detail, your wishes regarding treatments. They often include a section on organ donation.

Caring Connections, an arm of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, has a list of state-by-state forms for advance directives available. Each state's form is preceded by Caring Connection's general suggestions about completing an advance directive. These forms must be signed and witnessed. Although other forms can be legal if signed and witnessed, doctors are more likely to pay attention to the state-approved forms.

If you or your parent spends a lot of time in more than one state, it's a good idea to complete both (or all) state's advance directives.

You do not need a lawyer to create an advance directive or a living will, but you do need to follow your state's requirements about signing and witnessing these documents. Many online kits provide a template for an advance directive.

If you use one of these, make sure you complete it following your state's rules. If you are unsure of whether you have met your state's requirements, it is wise to consult a lawyer or other trusted professional.

Put your wishes down on paper

A popular form of advance directive is the Five Wishes document. This document, written with the help of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging, gives you the opportunity to convey your personal, emotional, and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes.

In 42 states and the District of Columba, it substantially meets the legal requirements for an advance directive. Check the website Aging with Dignity to see if your state is included. Even if it isn't, you can complete the Five Wishes to accompany your state's approved advance directive.

Here are the five categories of wishes:

  • The person I want to make care decisions for me when I can't

  • The kind of medical treatment I want or don't want

  • How comfortable I want to be

  • How I want people to treat me

  • What I want my loved ones to know

Each of the sections contains an extensive list of things to consider. For example, the document describes four situations — close to death, in a coma and not expected to wake up and recover, permanent and severe brain damage and not expected to recover, and in another condition in which I do not wish to be kept alive — and lists the choices that may apply.

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