What are advance directives and why do I need them?

Published 10:00 pm Monday, August 10, 2015

Perhaps you’ve heard the term ‘advance directives,’ but don’t know for certain what that term means, or fully understand why it’s important that virtually everyone, but particularly boomers and seniors, have advance directives.

Simply put, your advance directive is a document that will ensure your final wishes are being followed. An advance directive allows you to designate someone to speak for you and to make choices for you in several areas of your life, if for some reason – illness, accident or mental incapacity – you are no longer able to make those choices yourself.

Decisions involving health care – living wills that specify your wishes for heroic efforts to keep you alive such as surgery and life support – financial management of your affairs while you’re incapacitated, and a general power of attorney are examples of types of advance directives. These allow your designee to speak on your behalf in situations where you are not capable of doing so.

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The most important aspect of an advance directive or power of attorney, regardless of the type – living will, health or financial – is that you’ve got to have this document in place and have designated this person before whatever the problem may be actually happens. By creating your advance directives, you have the opportunity to stipulate ahead of time who speaks for you. This assures you that your wishes will be precisely carried out if you cannot speak for yourself.

Deciding who to name as your power of attorney, financial or health care surrogate should not be a surprise to family or close friends. Those decisions should be discussed and made clear as to whom you wish to be responsible for all or any individual aspect of decision-making on your behalf. It may be one person for everything, or perhaps one person for your financial decisions and another for health care decisions, and it does not have to be a spouse of even a family member.

Keep in mind, no advance directive takes effect unless or until you are no longer able to make or communicate such decisions for yourself. If your family or personal circumstances change, your documents can be revoked and rewritten.

People of all ages can be affected – remember the case of Terry Schiavo in Florida?  But the odds are that seniors are most likely to be affected due to accidents and illnesses like cancer, cardio-vascular problems, dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke or just the aging process itself.

Creating advance directives does not necessarily require an attorney. But it’s a very good idea to seek legal counsel to be sure that you are fully protecting yourself with complete, witnessed and notarized documents. It’s an inexpensive way to ensure that your wishes will be followed.

One last bit of advice. An advance directive won’t do you much good if it’s locked away in a file cabinet or safe where no one can find it. Give copies to your physician(s), family, friends, clergy, and attorney. Ask your doctor to enter it in her records, and have a copy with you if you go to the hospital.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Kauffman is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. His podcasts can be heard weekly at www.seniorlifestyles.net. Contact him at 828-696-9799 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.