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Protect your wishes for medical care with health care directives

Being fully prepared for the future might seem like an impossible task. Since no one can predict the future, you should consider putting instructions in place in the event you become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for yourself, even temporarily. With health care directives prepared and ready to go, you can make sure your that your family members understand and carry out your wishes for end-of-life or long-term care and treatment.

Not sure if you need health care directives? Every adult, no matter how young or old, needs them. This week's column provides you with basic information about advance directives and the legal requirements to make them valid.

First, what are health care directives?

These legal forms provide you a way to speak for yourself if an injury or illness makes you unable to do so. Health care directives give instructions to medical providers and family members about what type of treatments you want or do not want.

Are health care directives really necessary? Can't I just tell my family what I want?

You could give verbal instructions to your loved ones to follow should you become incapacitated. However, doing so does not provide you with a guarantee that family members could automatically carry out your wishes. Without advance directives in place, your loved ones would end up in court to obtain the right to speak on your behalf, which could delay your receiving, or not receiving, the care you desire or need.

Another benefit of health care directives is that medical personnel must follow their instructions. In addition, they could help prevent arguments between family members and ensure that your wishes take precedence over emotional conflicts.

What are the different types of advanced health care directives?

Several options exist for you to make your wishes known. These include:

  • Living wills
  • Health care powers of attorney
  • Mental health treatment declaration
  • Do not resuscitate order
  • Directives to medical providers and family

Not sure which type you need or will best suit your interests? You will probably need a combination of these documents to express your wishes accurately under a variety of circumstances. An experienced estate-planning attorney could provide you with in-depth information about the different types of health care directives and assist you in creating and properly executing them.

Ensure validity

To make your health care directives legally valid, their execution must conform to current state law. Most states require you to sign them in the presence of at least two witnesses. In some cases, a notary must sign as well.

Protect yourself and ease family members' burdens

Health care directives may not seem necessary to some, but at the end of the day, failing to execute them will only hurt you and your loved ones. Forcing family members to make medical decisions for you often causes conflict and emotional burdens that they should not have to bear.

If you need answers to questions about health care directives and other estate planning concerns, you could seek assistance from an attorney. With the right help, you could outline your wishes in legally valid documents prepared and ready for use if needed.

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