Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Importance of Personalized Advanced Directives

"Legal documents that express our wishes are not enough to prepare us for our final days. We must talk honestly with our loved ones, our clergy and our doctors and nurses about the choices we would make if confronted with a chronic or terminal illness." -- Rosalynn Carter

Advanced Directives, also known as Medical Directives or Healthcare Directives, are an important piece of the estate planning puzzle. There are different types of Advanced Directives, including the following: Healthcare (Medical) Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Mental Healthcare Power of Attorney. Each of these Advanced Directives allow you to give instructions about your healthcare--what you want done or not done--if you can't speak for yourself. Each state has its own laws regarding Advanced Directives and the formalities that need to be followed for your wishes to become effective.

Many people may be tempted to just fill out a form without taking the time to thoroughly think about the decisions they are making and discussing those decisions with their families. Unfortunately, this can lead to family discourse, which could also lead to your wishes not being followed.

Any form you decide to use should be personalized to reflect your individual values, priorities and wishes. If you don't agree with the language in a standard form, change it. Make sure that any directive you sign truly reflects your specific wishes.

So, before you prepare your Advanced Directives, it is important to spend some time considering the following:

1. Who should speak for me?
2. What makes my life worth living?
3. What are my personal and spiritual beliefs?
4. What is the hope for recovery?
5. What are the pros and cons of treatment for different chances of recovery?

You may also wish to take the time to explore your choices about death and dying, such as:
1. How would I like to spend my last days?
2. What are my feeling regarding organ donation and autopsy?
3. Burial arrangements
4. Funeral or memorial services

Because each of us are individuals, every one of us would have different answers to these questions. A colleague recently shared a wonderful tool for helping clients prepare personalized directives, called "Your Life, Your Choices." You can find the workbook here.

While having any kind of Advanced Directive may be helpful, you will have much greater peace of mind if you express your wishes to your family and friends in advance. While talking to your family and friends about your healthcare wishes will probably be uncomfortable, your clear guidance will be a meaningful gift if they are ever forced to make life and death decisions for you in the future. For ideas about how to start the conversation, click here.

To learn more about Advanced Directives in Arizona and Missouri, follow the links below.

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