The Terri Schiavo case has made people more aware of the importance of making their end-of-life wishes known. Here’s what you should know:
What is an advance directive? It is a legal document that sets forth how you want to be treated should you become ill and unable to make your medical wishes known. There are two kinds of directives: a living will and a durable health care power of attorney. You should have both.
What is a living will? It is a document in which specific life-prolonging measures should be addressed. Do you want to be resuscitated? What kind of life-support, if any, would you want? How do your want your pain managed?
One popular living will form, which is legal in Washington, Idaho and many other states, is the Five Wishes document. You can download a sample, or order a copy at www.agingwithdignity.org/5wishes.html or by calling (888) 5-WISHES.
Living will forms are also available at area hospitals. And you can download state-specific advance directive documents through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at www.nhpco.org.
Most of the forms are free, although the Five Wishes document costs $5.
You do not need to hire an attorney to fill out the forms, though you may want to consult one.
What is durable health care power of attorney? This is the person you designate to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. It’s wise to name just one person, but you can choose a backup as well.
Legal documents in which you name your health care proxy are available wherever you find living will forms.
The person you select must be over 18. You cannot choose your health-care provider or an employee of your health care provider, unless this person is your spouse or close relative.
You should select someone you trust, who lives close by or could travel quickly to you, and who could mediate between conflicting parties. For a worksheet to help you select a health care proxy, go to the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging Web site at www.abanet.org/aging/toolkit/home.html.
How do I make sure others know my wishes? After going to the work of filling out a living will and selecting someone to manage your care, do not hide the documents in a drawer or stash them in a safe-deposit box. Talk to your loved ones and friends and make sure your wishes are known.
Keep an original copy of the documents somewhere they can be easily found. Make sure your health care agent gets a copy. Give one to your doctor and be sure it is in your file. Carry an advance directive wallet card with you (a card comes with the Five Wishes form).
You can also register your advance directive electronically with the U.S. Living Will Registry. The service is free and makes your wishes available to health care providers. Log on to www.uslivingwillregistry.com for more information.
Sources: U.S. Living Will Registry, American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, Aging with Dignity, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation