We never really know what is around the corner. Most of us think optimistically and prefer not to think about car accidents, sudden illness, or other life-threatening situations that could leave us unable to make decisions about our health care. We would prefer to think it just won't happen to us because it's uncomfortable to imagine. Nevertheless, there are a number of reasons why we should enter the uncomfortable zone and prepare advance directives. First, for your peace of mind! Knowing your wishes will be followed will certainly help you breathe easier. Second, for your family's peace of mind! They could have conflicting views and be emotionally upset -- Don't make them guess at what you would want by leaving these difficult decisions for them.
Advance directives are legal documents pertaining to your health care wishes when you are unable to make these decisions for yourself due to illness or impairment. Here are some documents to consider:
Contrary to popular belief, this document has nothing to do with who gets what after you die. This document spells out what kind of medical care you want and when. It will state whether you want to be kept on life support under a number of circumstances. It will also state if you want a feeding tube if you are terminally ill and can no longer eat. It essentially will deal with what measures you want taken to prolong your life or not under various conditions.
Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
If you are no longer breathing or if your heart stops beating, an attempt to bring you back to life can be taken with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This document states whether or not you want such actions attempted.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
In the event you are unable to make decisions due to a loss of consciousness or severe impairment, someone needs to make decisions that may not be covered by the more general living will. This document legally designates a person of your choosing to make health care decisions on your behalf.
Durable Power of Attorney
This document has nothing to do with your health care; it is about your property and finances. It legally designates a person of your choosing to have access to your bank accounts, home, and other possessions to make decisions and sign documents on your behalf if you cannot.
You can complete these forms on your own; however, specific forms and laws vary from state to state. It is a good idea to meet with an experienced attorney to draw up these documents. He/she can advise you of any other legal preparations, as well as Medicaid eligibility and estate planning. The most important steps are making sure these forms are filled out correctly, signed, notarized and given to the appropriate people. Your hospitals, doctors, and family members should have copies of these important documents. We all know circumstances change (family situations or moving to a new state) and so can your documents. At any time you can change your documents by simply drawing up new forms.
Find peace of mind for you and your family by preparing advance directives, but certainly don't stop thinking optimistically. We never know what is around the corner -- the next lottery winner, a clean bill of health, or meeting that special someone.
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