What you need to know about an advance directive

When planning your estate and financial issues, you should also consider including plans for your medical wishes should you become ill or incapacitated. An advanced directive may include several different facets that address and carry out your health care plan either at end of life or in the event of illness or injury.

What are the facets of an advanced directive?

In New York State, there are three kinds of advanced directives that handle different aspects of your medical wishes:

  • Living will: This document outlines your end-of-life decisions in the event that you are unable to make the decisions yourself at the time because you have a terminal illness. This is not the same as a healthcare proxy, which handles your medical care in other circumstances.
  • Healthcare proxy or medical power of attorney: This person is responsible for making health care decisions about your treatment should you become incapacitated or are under anesthesia. Note that this is not the same as a living will, which pertains to your end-of-life wishes.
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order: This directive indicates to emergency and medical staff to not carry out life-saving measures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should your heart stop beating or you stop breathing.

Considerations when planning your living will

Your living will can be as specific as you would like. It should include your desires about medication, treatment and other decisions like funeral arrangements. Some items to consider are:

  • Medication: You can indicate the type and amounts of medication that you would like to receive at the end of your life. This might include pain relievers or antibiotics. Keep in mind that some medications may make you more comfortable but also shorten your life as a result.
  • Life-sustaining measures: These include things like mechanical ventilation (being on a ventilator) and feeding tubes or intravenous fluids or nutrients. You can indicate if you would or would not want these and other artificial life-sustaining measures.
  • Final arrangements: You can also include details about if you would like to be buried, cremated, donate your organs and what kind of services you would like after you die.

How to choose a healthcare proxy

Since this person is responsible for making healthcare decisions while you are alive but unable to communicate, they should have a clear understanding of your wishes. The intention is that the person makes the same decisions or chooses the same options that you would. Depending on your comfort level, you can ask a close friend or family member to act as your healthcare proxy. You can also decide to change or appoint a different person once you are able to communicate following a medical procedure or course of treatment.

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