Getting Organized: Health Care Directives or Living Wills


Some of the hardest conversations we may ever have with loved ones are about living wills or end-of-life wishes. Maybe our aging parents aren’t ready to think about such things. Maybe our children don’t want to hear what has to be said. These discussions aren’t just for those who are sick; unexpected tragedies can happen at any moment. Studies show that people who prepare for these instances not only feel they receive better medical care, they also help loved ones feel less stress during a stressful time.

If you’re ready to have these discussions, there are a few terms to learn. NOLO: Law for All is a free resource that explains the legal terms without all the jargon. Requirements vary from state to state, and sometimes you need more than one document, so make sure to talk to a professional about your needs.

Living Will: With a living will, you can declare your medical wishes for your doctor and loved ones. Do you want to be resuscitated? What about being put on a ventilator? Feeding tube? Dialysis? Organ donation? With this document, you can stipulate your exact wishes in an instance when you’re unable to advocate for yourself.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: In many states, you need to also name a health care agent or durable power of attorney for health care. This should be a trusted, responsible person who has your best interest in mind. (In your will, you may also assign power of attorney to someone for your finances. This is completely different and does not have to be the same person as for your health care.)

Advance Health Care Directive: Several states wrap up both the living will and durable power of attorney for health care into one document where you list all your wishes, along with your health agent’s name and perhaps even a DNR (do not resuscitate order).

Once you’ve completed your paperwork, make sure a copy goes in your medical file, to trusted loved ones and in a safe place in your home. You can rescind or change these documents at any time.
Being Prepared