Advance Care Planning and Health Care Directives: FAQs

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What is a Health Care Directive?

A Health Care Directive is the written plan you make for your future medical treatments. A Health Care 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 health care agent, also known as a power of attorney for health care. A health care 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 Health Care Directive?

No. However, completing a Health Care Directive helps to make sure your family and health care 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 Health Care Direcitve?

You must be 18 years old to create a Health Care 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 health care wishes.
  • Have a notary public or two witnesses verify your signature

What should I put in a Health Care 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 health care agent or doctor and other members of your care team in making decisions about your health care treatment

What is a health care agent?

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

How do I choose a health care agent?

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

Do I need to talk to my doctor?

Talking with your doctor about your health care wishes is important but not a legal requirement. Your doctor can check that your Health Care Directive is clear and complete. Your doctor also can confirm if your health care team will follow your wishes.

Where should I keep my Health Care Directive?

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

How long does a Health Care Directive last?

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