Advance Care Planning: Your Health Care Directives

July 1, 2021

Life is full of adventures and new experiences; some of which could leave you in a precarious situation. What happens if a misstep or accident causes you to require immediate medical assistance; further, what if this situation leaves you unable to communicate your wishes? Most people think an emergency will happen to other people: they don’t believe they will likely end up in the emergency room. According to Wolters Kluwer’s UpToDate platform, only one-third of Americans have created an advance care plan (ACP).

What is an Advance Care Plan?

Advance care planning is the activity where you craft a detailed plan about your future health care needs and treatment options. ACP provides guidance to health care professionals when you’re not in a position to make a decision, or communicate your health care wishes. Adults at any age or stage of health care can craft an ACP document that shares their personal values, life goals, and medical care preferences. Regardless of a clinical situation, your ACP should be proactive, appropriately timed, and integrated into your routine care. You can update an ACP document at any time. 

Sharing Your Advance Care Plan 

Upon crafting an ACP you need to communicate your wishes, and share the document with family members and your designated decision-makers. Specific medical treatment decisions can be recorded in an advance directive (AD). Ultimately the ACP is a tool that ensures any future health care is aligned with your values and wishes. Once you’ve created an ACP, upload the document to your Advance Directives Vault

A Continual Process

  • ACP is a continual process where your current health condition is reviewed and medical options discussed with a medical team.
  • During ACP discussions, your clinicians and loved ones will explore scenarios and treatment options if, or when, your health declines. 
  • The main purpose for ACP is preparing you, your decision makers, and medical team to make the best decisions that are aligned with your wishes, and at a moment’s notice. 

Benefits of an Advance Care Plan

  • Advance care planning is the process of outlining your healthcare preferences in advance of a medical emergency or procedure. 
  • An ACP ensures your wishes are understood if you are no longer able to communicate for yourself. 
  • An ACP provides a roadmap for your health care, removing the burden of guessing what you might want, and ensures that you remain in control of your treatment.
  • ACP does not require an attorney. 
    • ACP signing requirements differ from state-to-state, but typically notarization and or witnesses are sufficient.
    • There are many low cost or free ACP options available online.  

Living Will – Advance Care Planning Document

An advance health care directive, commonly known as a living will, personal directive, advance directive, medical directive, or advance decision, is a legally binding document where you specify what actions should be taken for your health care if you’re no longer able to make decisions for yourself due to illness or incapacity. 

A living will is one form of an advance directive. Please note, a living will is not a last will and testament. A last will and testament is a legal document that guides your executor and family members with the distribution of your assets. Another form of advance directive is a specific type of power of attorney or health care proxy; whereby you authorize someone (an agent) to make decisions on your behalf when you’re incapacitated. It’s recommended that you get both a living will and a power of attorney to provide comprehensive guidance for your care. These two documents can be merged into a single form. 

Durable Power of Attorney 

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or Designation of a Health Care Proxy, enables you to identify the individual you want to make health care decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to direct or communicate your wishes. This document empowers the individual on a temporary or permanent basis due to an accident, illness, or terminal medical condition. Of note, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care does not have the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf. 

The designated representative, who acts as your health care proxy, will be responsible for making decisions about whether medical treatments will be provided, withheld, or withdrawn depending upon a situation. As such, it’s imperative that your wishes are well documented and communicated with this individual. 

Everyone Should Have an Advance Care Plan

Regardless of your health status, age, or stage of life, you and your loved ones will benefit from having an advance care plan in place. Having an ACP makes certain your health care directives are followed by medical practitioners and family members; most importantly, it brings a sense of peace of mind to you and your loved ones.


Disclaimer. HereToday is not a legal service. This content should not be taken as legal advice. Before drafting any legal document, please consult an attorney.

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