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Advance directives ensure that your wishes are carried out, minimizing the stress and potential conflicts that come with medical decision-making during times of crisis.

Dec. 8, 2023

By Sara Cruz-Luna, MD
Optum - Myrtle
Clearwater, Florida

The start of a new year is a time when many people think about making resolutions to improve their health. However, there is one important aspect of health that many people overlook — advance care planning. Advance care planning includes the creation of a living will and designation of a health care surrogate.

Advance directives are legal documents or instructions that spell out your preferences for future decisions and wishes about your medical care. They are meant to be used only in the event you become incapacitated and are otherwise unable to voice these preferences yourself. Advance directives are important because they can help ensure that your wishes are carried out.

Contrary to what many people think, these documents are not just for the elderly or the terminally ill. It is important for everyone, regardless of age or health to reflect on personal values and wishes and discuss with family and loved ones as well as with your health care provider.

So, why is it important for everyone to start planning early?

  1. Life is unpredictable. Accidents, illness and disability are all possibilities we often cannot foresee or predict.
  2. Advance directives ensure that your wishes are carried out, minimizing the stress and potential conflicts that come with medical decision-making during times of crisis.
  3. They can save your family and loved ones from having to make difficult decisions about your care based on their own values and priorities instead of making choices based on your values and wishes.
  4. It often means you can avoid unnecessary pain, unhelpful procedures and unwanted hospitalizations, etc.

Once you have considered on your own expectations and wishes, creating a living will and assigning a health care surrogate is a relatively easy process. You can do it yourself by downloading forms from the internet. You may also want to consult with an estate planning attorney. An attorney can help you ensure that your wishes are clearly stated and legally binding. You can also consult with your primary care physician, who can help you understand your medical care choices.

There are many resources available to help you get started, including AARP and the National Institute on Aging which offer valuable information and free forms tailored to each state.

As you begin the process of planning your living will and advance directives, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Select who you want to be your health care surrogate (HCS). A HCS will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. Select someone you trust, like a close friend, relative, pastor or spouse. Make sure you have discussed with them your own wishes and preferences ahead of time.
  2. Decide what kind of medical care you want to receive. This includes decisions about life-sustaining treatment, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, and CPR. Remember this includes treatments you want as well as treatments you refuse.
  3. Discuss these documents with your primary care physician (PCP). Bring a copy of your advance directives (living will and health care surrogate designation) to your PCP’s office.

It is important to revisit and update your advance directives and will regularly, as your wishes may change over time. You should also make sure that your loved ones and your health care surrogate are aware of the contents of your documents, and that they are willing to carry out your wishes.

If you are considering making a change to your life this new year, consider making a resolution to create a will and an advanced directive.

Sara Cruz Luna, MD, specializes in internal medicine and geriatric medicine. She graduated from Ponce School of Medicine in 2006 and completed her Internal Medicine residency at Kettering Medical Center in 2009. Dr. Cruz-Luna also completed a fellowship in geriatric medicine at Wright State University 2010. She is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in both Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine. She is licensed to practice in Florida.

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