What’s an Advance Directive?

Though healthcare terminology can sometimes be confusing, adding in a legal aspect can make things feel downright overwhelming!

elderly couple holding hands in hospital

But they don’t have to be.

For instance, when it comes to your living will, you may have questions, such as what does an advance directive mean? Or what does an advance directive do? We’re here to help you understand these and other questions about advance directives and why they’re so important.

Here’s what you need to know about this key part of your healthcare journey.

What’s an Advance Directive?

No matter your age or condition, medical crises can arise that can incapacitate you and require caregivers to make important decisions regarding your health. This can be anything from a coma, anesthesia, dementia or end-of-life, keeping you from having full command of your mental faculties.

But by having legal documents already in place outlining your preferences under certain conditions, it saves caregivers and loved ones the burden of having to make tough decisions for you. This saves your family, friends and healthcare workers the confusion of not knowing what your wishes may be if you are too ill to state them yourself.

What’s Included?

An advance directive may include such information as:

  • Your organ and tissue donor preference
  • Tube feeding
  • Use of dialysis
  • Use of breathing machines
  • Whether or not you’d like to be resuscitated if your heart stops beating

Your directive should also include a proxy to whom you’ve granted power of attorney. This should be someone you know well, who knows you well and who you trust to make important decisions on your behalf.

All of this needs to be in writing so that your directives are clear and in place before you need them, and they can also be adjusted and updated by you and your attorney as your needs and desires change.

When Should You Plan Your Advance Directive?

It is literally never too soon to plan your advance directives, since illness, incapacitation or death can happen at any time. No, this isn’t a doom-and-gloom prediction of dire circumstances meant to frighten you, but rather, it’s a call for some simple, common sense legal ducks to be in a row for when they’re needed.

Plus, once your living will is in place, with your clearly stated wishes and decisions, you can rest easy knowing that in the event of a healthcare crisis, everything is outlined for your optimum safety and care.

How Can Your Primary Care Provider Help With Decisions?

In the event you need advice on choosing the best directives for you, or if you don’t fully understand the nature of a directive, your doctor can help. Though it’s important for you to speak with loved ones about your decisions and wishes for your advance directive and why they’re important to you, it’s often best to make sensitive decisions with your doctor. Mainly, it’s simply easier to talk to a medical professional who doesn’t have the strong emotional ties your family and loved ones do, and your doctor also isn’t likely to try and sway your true desires with emotional pleas.

You should also review your advance directives with your doctor or healthcare team for accuracy, and it’s likely that your state will require a witness at signing, which your primary care team can help with, as well.

What Else Should You Consider?

Once you’ve completed, reviewed and signed your advance directive, it’s important that you give copies to your doctor, hospital and family members. Your copy should be stored in a safe place, since, just like your other important legal documents, it needs to remain easily accessible on short notice.

In fact, it’s a good idea to keep a card in your wallet or purse stating that you have a living will and power of attorney, along with instructions on where the documents can be found. Even though some organizations will store patient directives and keep them available, not all do, and in the event of an emergency, it’s in your best interest to have all your bases covered.

Finally, each state has different laws when it comes to advance directives, and it’s important that you understand your state’s requirements, as well as anything you may need to know when traveling to other states or regions.

Why Should You Choose Intermountain Health?

Whether it’s advice on your advance directive from a trusted medical expert or just a routine checkup that you need, Intermountain Health is there for you.

This includes our staff of doctors and advance practice clinicians, all of whom put your need for compassionate and comprehensive healthcare at the forefront of each visit. Our goal at Intermountain Health is to help you live your healthiest life possible.

And that’s our promise to you.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Part of being well is being heard.