Advance directives are documents you put together that express your wishes in case you can't do so yourself.
You could end up in a situation like that faster than you think. All it takes is one hard blow to the head in a fall, a car accident that leaves you unconscious or a sudden infection that robs you of the ability to think straight.
Are they important? That answer depends on how much you care about how your health care is handled when you're no longer in control.
If you do care, then there are two that should be on file with your doctor's office and your local hospital:
- A living will
- A health care power of attorney
These two documents, while fairly simple to fill out and execute (many local hospitals will give you the forms for free and provide a notary) can trump the wishes of your next of kin. They also give the hospital or doctors a legal leg to stand on if they refuse to do (or not do) something that you've requested -- even when you have family members that are opposed to the idea.
The living will provides a fairly comprehensive idea of what you do and don't want, should big decisions become necessary. For example, do you want a breathing tube under any circumstances? What about a feeding tube?
The health care power of attorney should go to someone you trust to follow your wishes -- particularly if you have strong opinions about quality of life versus quantity, because that person may be asked to make the decision to stop medical treatment and begin "comfort care" if you are dying.
The person you choose should also be willing to stand up to family members who may try everything from tears to threats to get them to change their mind. For example, if your health care attorney determines that it's time to stop treatment and move to comfort care but your sister wants you on life support because she isn't ready to accept your death, the situation can become heated rather quickly.
If it's time to get your advance directives together, an experienced attorney can help you decide what you want to include and who you want to handle your medical affairs when you cannot.
Source: FindLaw, "The Definition of Power of Attorney, Living Will and Advanced Directives," accessed Nov. 08, 2017