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What are advance directives?

An advance directive is a legal document that helps you convey your wishes for the type of medical treatment you want in the event you become unable to convey those wishes to your doctors. An advance directive is typically made up of two parts that complement each other to help ensure you receive the treatment you want, regardless of the circumstances.

Durable power of attorney for health care

One part of an advance directive is the durable power of attorney for health care. This allows you to designate someone as your alternate decision maker regarding medical care. This person is called your agent.

Typically, people choose a trusted adult family member or close for this role. It is generally good to select someone who can be calm in a crisis, who is bold enough to ask plenty of questions and who will defend your stance even if he or she disagrees. It can also be helpful to select someone who lives close enough to you to be at the hospital when he or she is needed.

Health care directive

The second part of an advance directive is called a health care directive, though it is sometimes called a living will. A health care directive allows you to put in writing your wishes for or against certain medical treatments in various situations.

Your health care directive trumps your agent’s permission when the two conflict. However, your agent is there to make decisions that you were not able to address in your health care directive.

Every adult should have an advance directive because unexpected accidents happen every day. Nobody wants to think about being in a severe accident, but having an advance directive already in place is the only way to be sure your wishes will be known if you become incapacitated.

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