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What is an advanced directive and why should I consider it?

Planning for the future can be a daunting task, especially when you don't even know where to start. One question to remember to ask is who makes decisions for you if you can't make them for yourself?

One of those decisions could be related to advanced directives. Advanced directives are legal documents that state how medical decisions should be made if you become incapacitated.

Types of advanced directives

Two common types of advanced directives are health care directives/ proxies and living wills. A major concern that comes up could be whether you want to set up a health care directive/ proxy or a living will.

You might have heard many good and bad things about both, but first, what exactly are they?

  • A health care proxy is a document where you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. This person should be someone you trust, like a close friend or relative.
  • A living will is a document where you specify what type of treatment you would want under certain situations involving severe mental illness, comas or difficult pregnancies.

While both documents may seem like the right choice, there may be more benefits to doing one over the other.

What to know about setting up a health care proxy

Some of the benefits of setting up a health care proxy are:

  • Your medical decision is based on current information .
  • Someone you trust gets to make a medical decision for you base on your values and beliefs.
  • By having a proxy, you're preparing for the unexpected .

Some of the disadvantages of having a health care agent include:

  • Someone else is making important medical decisions for you.
  • If your decisions were not specific enough, the person you assign as your agent will plan based on what they think you might want. However, if your decision changes while incapacitated, this will not be reflected in your medical care.
  • This person might refuse to act in your behalf or in your favor.

What to know about setting up a living will

Some of the benefits of setting up a living will are:

  • You get to voice your beliefs and concerns
  • You make your own decisions
  • You can revoke a living will at any time

Some disadvantages of living wills are:

  • Living wills created in one state may not be valid in another state. All states have different guidelines and a new living will might need to be created if you decide to move.
  • There is not room for detailed specifics on issues that might arise. For example: a broad statement of "do not resuscitate" does not give the medical provider an understanding of what to do in unexpected circumstances.

Overall, either of these choices may be the right fit depending on your personal situation. Just thinking about which of these options might be for you and understanding the components of each is already a good step in taking control of your medical health in the future.

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