Discussing Your Advance Care Planning

Have you made your healthcare wishes known to your loved ones? Do you know their wishes about end-of-life issues? Now is a good time to consider your options and create an advance healthcare directive.

The topic may sound taxing, but keep reading. This is information you’re going to want to have.

The power of a plan

Advance care planning simply means communicating what types of measures you would want your healthcare team and loved ones to take if you were incapable of expressing yourself directly.  Taking the time now to clarify your personal preferences can turn a potentially confusing set of decisions into a clear roadmap for your doctors and family members to follow. 

How it’s done in California

In California, the two types of documents that spell out a person’s wishes are combined into a single form called an advance healthcare directive. It includes:

  • A durable power of attorney for healthcare. This allows you to name another person to speak on your behalf if you can’t do so yourself.  The individual you designate (who could be a family member, a friend, or even your lawyer) is given the authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated.  You should give this control only to someone you trust completely.
  • A living will. This allows you to specify what, if any, extreme measures you would want taken if you were terminally ill or in a permanent vegetative state and could not communicate your preferences yourself.  Here, you clarify your desires regarding life-sustaining care and nutrition.   

Why this matters

There are lots of reasons to create an advance healthcare directive. Most important, it allows you to: 

  • Clarify your personal preferences so your healthcare team provides precisely the treatment and care that you want.
  • Give your loved ones the gift of information so they can avoid guessing what you might want.
  • Customize your advance healthcare directive in any way you choose. While the official forms offer the most common scenarios, they can be modified to accommodate any religious, cultural or medical context.
  • Experience end-of-life issues on your own terms.
  • Work with an attorney or do it yourself. Once you’ve filled out the paperwork, you need to have it witnessed and signed by at least two people but neither is required to be a lawyer.  

Advanced care planning is an important part of your health experience. So get this conversation started with your family and communicate with your physician. You might be surprised at how relieved you’ll feel to have filled out a few forms.