August 01, 2021

Is it really that important to have an advance directive in place?

Q: At my last medical checkup, the questionnaire asked if I have an advance directive on file. I've mentioned some thoughts on emergency care to my son, but is it really that important to have documentation in place?

A: Everyone, no matter the age or current health status, is encouraged to write out an advance health care directive.

In an advance directive, you name someone to make medical decisions for you if you're unable to express your wishes. This is known as a power of attorney for health care. You can also specify treatments you do or do not want to have, such as tube feeding or mechanical ventilation — these instructions are known as a living will.

An advance directive is a gift to yourself; it ensures that, in the event of a health emergency, you will be treated in the manner you want. It is also a gift to your loved ones who — by knowing your wishes in advance — will be able to act with greater confidence if they need to make life-and-death decisions for you.

You can find state-specific forms for advance directives on many websites, such as your state health department, the AARP (www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/free-printable-advance-directives), and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (www.nhpco.org/advancedirective).

As you fill out these forms, Mayo Clinic experts say it's best to have frank conversations with your loved ones about your goals and values for your health. These talks can help you refine your priorities and help your family better understand your preferences. You can discuss your specific desires further if your health status changes.

Keep your advance directive in a safe place where it be found easily, not locked in a safe only you can open. Give copies to your chosen health...