March 26

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Do I Need an Advanced Directive?

By Mac McLean

March 26, 2021


There will always comes the time in your life when you ask yourself “do I need an advanced directive?” or maybe you want to learn but don’t know where to start. You might want to read further so you will know if the documents is important for you.

A recent study found some COVID-19 patients suffer renal failure after spending less than one day on a mechanical ventilator. This means they’ll likely have to go through regular dialysis treatments as part of an extended recovery that no one understands. It’s a simple reminder that life-sustaining treatments impact your quality of life and another reason to wonder, “do I need an advance directive?”

Advance directives provide people a chance to set limits on how far their doctors and other health care providers should go with emergency medical treatments. They offer a middle ground between a do not resuscitate order and someone’s desire to keep their loved ones alive no matter what the cost.

Sign up for one of our free online estate planning events today so you can learn more about this documents, which should be as much a part of someone’s estate plan as a will or a trust, and meet a certified financial planner who can help you pick one that best fits your needs.

Do you need an advance directive?

Anyone who wants to make sure their end-of-life wishes are followed needs an advance directive. And while the rules for obtaining these documents — which include living wills, physician orders for life sustaining treatments (POLST), and health care power of attorneys – may vary from state to state, the general process involved with getting one follows these three simple steps.

  • Determine your wishes: There’s nothing wrong with foregoing CPR. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting your health care providers to go to the lengths Dr. Peter Benton would seek on “E.R.” The four options most advance directives offer include: setting up a do not resuscitate order that bars all medical treatments including CPR, allowing comfort measures that include medication and wound care to prevent pain and suffering, allowing limited medical treatments that include IV fluids but not intubation, and full treatment options that include feeding tubes, mechanical ventilators and any other equipment you’d find in an intensive care unit.
  • State your wishes: Knowing how to state your wishes is almost as important as knowing where you want to draw the line. POLST forms provide health care providers a simple set of instructions to follow the second an ambulance shows up at your house while living wills offer room for interpretation and might work better when dealing with a long-term illness. Another option is to share your wishes with someone you trust and make that person a health care power of attorney who has the legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Share your wishes: Finally, advance directives are useless if no one knows you have one or they can’t find the document while an ambulance is coming to take you away. Talk to your attorney and your primary care physician about places to keep these forms so they’re safe and readily accessible. Make sure it’s part of your electronic health record so health care providers can find the document when they look over your medical history. And most importantly, make sure your loved ones understand the choices you are making and why you are making them. They may not agree with where you’ve chosen to draw the line, but at least they’ll be able to tell someone the documents exist as you’re going through a medical emergency and can’t share it yourself.

Groups like National POLST can help you learn more about writing advance directives and might even help you find the forms that are used in your state. Some states may even require medical providers to give you one before you undergo surgery or any other treatment that could have a bad outcome.

The start of your estate planning process is another great time discuss your end-of-life choices and making sure you have the documents you’ll need to carry them out. That’s because talking about how you want to die is no major stretch when you’re already talking about what happens to your stuff and your family members when you die. 

Sign up for one of our free online estate planning events today so you can learn more about these documents and meet a certified financial planner who can help you pick one that best fits your needs.

Mac McLean

About the author

Based out of Bend, Oregon, Mac McLean is a freelance writer who covers older adults and the issues affecting their daily lives. He currently writes for this website, the AARP Bulletin, and Waste Alert. He and his wife are riding out the pandemic with their 12-year-old English Springer Spaniel mix in a 200-square-foot guest house on a 2.2-acre farm surrounded by chickens, cows, pigs, and a donkey that simply will not shut up.

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