Advance Care Planning and Healthcare Directives: FAQs

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What is a Healthcare Directive?

A Healthcare Directive is the written plan you make for your future medical treatments. A Healthcare Directive also is the document in which you can identify someone to communicate your wishes if you are unable to do so – this person is your healthcare agent, also known as a power of attorney for healthcare. A healthcare directive describes the medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you would or would not want if you were unable to speak for yourself.

Do I need a Healthcare Directive?

No. However, completing a Healthcare Directive helps to make sure your family and healthcare team follow your wishes. It is also valuable to have a quality conversation with the important people in your life about your values and goals for care across the continuum of life.

What is legally required for a Healthcare Direcitve?

You must be 18 years old to create a Healthcare Directive. The document must:

  • Be in writing and dated
  • State your name
  • Identify a health care agent or articulate wishes for life sustaining treatment – or both
  • Be signed by you or someone you authorize to sign for you. You must do this at a time when you can understand and communicate your healthcare wishes.
  • Have a notary public or two witnesses verify your signature

What should I put in a Healthcare Directive?

You may be as specific or general as you wish. Specific statements, however, can:

  • Clarify your goals for medical care for certain situations, such as permanent injury to your brain
  • Help guide your healthcare agent or doctor and other members of your care team in making decisions about your healthcare treatment

What is a healthcare agent?

A healthcare agent is a person who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make or communicate decisions yourself. A healthcare agent makes sure your healthcare team follows what you specify in your Healthcare Directive.

How do I choose a healthcare agent?

Your healthcare agent should be someone whom you know well and trust to follow your wishes, such as a family member or friend. Your healthcare agent cannot be your doctor or another member of your healthcare team, unless your doctor or healthcare team member is a family member or you give reasons for choosing this person in your healthcare directive.

Do I need to talk to my doctor?

Talking with your doctor about your healthcare wishes is important but not a legal requirement. Your doctor can check that your healthcare directive is clear and complete. Your doctor also can confirm if your healthcare team will follow your wishes.

Where should I keep my Healthcare Directive?

Give copies of your signed healthcare directive to your healthcare agent, your doctor and healthcare team, family members and anyone else you want to know about your future healthcare wishes. Keep the original document easily available at your home.

How long does a Healthcare Directive last?

Your Healthcare Directive lasts until you change or cancel it – which you may do at any time. We recommend reviewing and updating your healthcare directive every few years or with a change in health or circumstance.