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Who Needs Advance Directives?

Advance directives help ensure that you receive the medical care you would want even when doctors and family members are making decisions on your behalf. There are two different types of advance directives: Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.

Health Care Power of Attorney: This document allows you to legally appoint a person to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make your own decision, even if the period of disability is temporary. It is important for you to discuss how you feel about important health care treatments so that the person to whom you assign this responsibility understands your wishes and is comfortable with the role.

Living Will: With this document, you specify whether or not you would want life sustaining treatment in the case that you are unable to make an informed medical decision and you are in a terminal condition or a permanent unconscious state. You may also specify your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation in this document.

To start the advance directive planning process, speak with your doctor about the types of health care decisions that could come up in your future. Consider what is important to you and your family. Once you feel confident about your wishes, you need to complete legal forms. Your local area agency on aging can assist you in finding the correct documents. Alternatively, you can seek help from a lawyer to complete the documents. Low-income older adults and people with disabilities or serious illness can apply to Legal Aid for help by calling 1-888-817- 3777. You can also use this online interview tool, which will help you create your own Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney (

After completing your advance directives, give a copy to your doctors, and make your family and close friends aware of where you keep a copy. Also give copies of the directive to the person named as your Health Care Power of Attorney. It is never too early to start planning, and remember to review your advance care planning decisions at least every 10 years.

This article was written by Emily Depew and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

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