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The Importance of Advance Directive Documents

As you or your loved one ages, a conversation that must happen involves the matter of planning for end-of-life care. While it’s not a conversation that people look forward to, it’s important to understand their wishes before being faced with a decision when an emergency situation occurs.

A large part of that conversation should focus on Advance Directive Documents. Advance Directive documents gather together a person’s most significant wishes for end-of-life-care. These documents are vital to, not only family members, but also to physicians and other care providers. In a 2014 report, “Dying in America,” the Institute of Medicine noted that the quality of communication about end-of-life care between providers and patients is poor, which often results in more intensive and costly care. So having the essential documents in hand can improve the nature of care a person receives.

Judy Eads, RN and a licensed Nursing Home Administrator states, “All those involved in caring for a person who is dying – family members, doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy and other support staff – have a role in making sure that end-of-life care is compassionate. Whether you are in the early stages of planning or faced with decisions in a crisis or somewhere in between, you can help to shape the last stage of life.”

Following are brief descriptions of Advance Directive documents that will assist in providing the care you or your loved one desire.

Durable Power of Attorney

The DPOA grants a person or persons the power to legally act on behalf of the individual (grantor). The DPOA is effective immediately upon signing and remains in effect even if the grantor becomes unable to participate in decisions. You will need an attorney to complete the DPOA. The DPOA typically includes:

  • Financial transactions
  • Government benefits
  • Real Estate
  • Estate trust and beneficiary transactions

Health Care Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy/Health Care Agent

There may come a time when your parent or loved one is no longer able to make decisions or communicate their wishes regarding healthcare and medical treatment. With the POA, they empower a proxy to make those decisions. The proxy will also have full access to the individual’s confidential medical records. The POA only goes into effect when it is determined that the grantor is unable to make or communicate their healthcare and medical treatment decisions.

It is important that the proxy has full understanding of the grantor’s wishes regarding their treatment so the grantor can effectively communicate to health care professionals as well as family members those wishes.

Living Will/Advance Directive for Healthcare Decision

A living will/Advance Directive clearly and fully explains your parents’ or loved one’s wishes regarding comfort and end of life decisions. A living will applies in situations in which the decision to use treatments may prolong their life for a limited period of time or not obtaining treatment would result in their death.

While you do not need an attorney to complete an Advance Directive or Living Will, you may find legal advice helpful in preparing these documents.

“Advance care planning, good communication, and shared decision-making,” notes Eads, “are important ways to obtain end-of-life care that will bring peace of mind to the patient and their family.”

Additional Resources:

Advance Care Planning, National Institute on Aging

“Questions and Answers on Advance Directives,” American Hospital Association

Download Your State’s Advance Directives, CaringInfo.org

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