what is an advance directive and why is it important

An advance directive is a crucial document to have in place for peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Discussing and documenting your final wishes prior to experiencing an illness, accident or even aging is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family.

I’d like to share my own personal experience that prompted me to “get my affairs in order” with respect to my own planning and preparation.

A few years ago, my husband suffered a near fatal infection. He was in a coma, required brain surgery and rehabilitation. After a long hard road, thankfully, he recovered. But, he suffered brain damage and a host of long term health problems due to the toll the infection took on his body. As a result, he was disabled and no longer employable.  So, I became our sole source of income and his caregiver.

While he did not have an official advance directive in place, I knew what his wishes would have been in a medical crisis. If it came down to it, I would have had to voice that for him if asked by his care team. I was dreading it, but I was prepared to make it known because I loved him. I knew he would not have wanted to be kept alive by artificial means or spend his final days suffering just to “hang on”. We’d had the tough discussions on more than one occasion, usually after a friend or loved one passed away.

Due to the brain damage, my husband is not always able to understand what he is reading or necessarily comprehend what is being explained about a situation. When he becomes agitated, nervous or excited, his confusion and anxiety are compounded 100 fold. So, while he knows me and he knows what I would want, if it came down to it, I feel it quite honestly be more than he could bear. And he shouldn’t have to make that decision while there is such a simple was for me to relieve that burden.

In order to take care of him in the event something happened to me, I created a will, purchased life insurance on myself and completed my advance directive. I wanted everything signed, sealed, witnessed and filed. Yes, my husband, my kids, my friends, my family all know what I have expressed as my final wishes, but if the time came, why should they have to answer the tough questions?

Would they not be distraught enough?

Could they possibly second guess themselves and carry the guilt and worry that they made the wrong decision?

Why should they have to look a doctor in the eye and utter those words when it is completely within my power to help them even in what might be my final moments.

I feel there is absolutely no excuse for not having an advance directive. I understand that for some people it is frightening or morbid or unnerving. I think some may think that they will “conjure up” death if they plan for it!

I’ll be honest though –  it did take me a few weeks to complete mine before signing it. Once I had the blank paperwork in front of me and read the questions, I had to consider that what I wanted was REALLY what I wanted.

Each state has its own set of provisions and requirements regarding advance directives.  CaringInfo is a great resource to obtain the forms specific to each state. Simply choose your state from their home page for free access to the necessary forms for your state. You can complete them online and print for final signatures, or print them out and complete by hand.

Advance directive forms are pretty self explanatory and relatively easy to complete. While specifics may vary from state to state, it is basically comprised of the following

  • Assigning a health care agent

You will need to choose a person to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do by accident, impairment, illness, etc.

  • Your treatment preferences

In this part, you outline your “final wishes”.  For my state, I had the options of do everything to extend my life, let my natural death occur, or the option of choosing the particular measures I would prefer. You may also want to provide preferences regarding surgery or amputation, etc.

  • Assigning a guardian

 If, for whatever reason, you are not able to make significant responsible decisions regarding your finances, welfare or safety, you will need a guardian to oversee your affairs. This was an optional section for my state, but having had the experience with my husband, I went ahead and chose a guardian for myself. When my husband was classified as disabled, I had to be certified by the court and social security administration certifying that I would be responsible for his well being and care.  If he hadn’t had me, then the court would have appointed a guardian for him.

And that’s it!

The forms do not have to notarized, but they do have to be witnessed by parties other than your health care agent or guardian.

It is imperative that you discuss your preferences with your loved ones and get everyone on the same page. Answer the tough questions and ask the tough questions. Get everything out on the table and clear up the gray areas. Make sure your health care agent and/or guardian is comfortable with carrying out the duties you are asking of them. By having your directive in place, you are providing a bit of peace for your loved ones and yourself should a medical crisis ever arise. Through your directive, you would be an active participant in your care decisions, even though you may be incapacitated or otherwise unable to do so. And remember – an advance directive is a LIVING document and it can be adjusted or changed at any time you choose.

For me, an advance directive is vital for planning and preparing for the future. I encourage you to execute a directive documenting your wishes and providing your loved ones with the confidence they are making the decisions you would want them to make.

~ Blessings ~