Advance care planning is the process of making your wishes known if you ever get to a point when you cannot speak for yourself.
This process involves forms called “advance directives” as well as conversations that we have with family and friends. Advance care planning is important for people of every age and every health condition. Whether you’re young or old, healthy or facing major health concerns, you can give your loved ones a gift by specifying and talking about your values and wishes. What do you value? How do you want to live? Who do you want to speak up for you if you become seriously ill? These aren’t easy topics to discuss, but they are incredibly important.
Let’s go over a few myths and facts:
Myth: Advance care planning is a one-time thing that can’t be changed.
Fact: Planning for the care that you would like to receive if you can no longer speak for yourself is an ongoing conversation with family members. As you learn more information, consider changes in circumstances, and think through your preferences, you can change your wishes. Don’t let the fear of making a big decision paralyze you! Get started; have conversations with your healthcare agent, family members, and doctor; and complete the documents knowing that you can change them. If you do happen to change your advance directives, be sure to destroy old copies and distribute new copies to your healthcare agent and doctor.
Myth: Advance care planning needs to be very specific.
Fact: You don’t a crystal ball! You cannot anticipate what exactly could happen to you or what type of treatment choices may need to be made. However, you can talk broadly about our values. What are your overall goals for care? How comfortable do you want to be? How do you want to be treated? What worries you the most, and how can you be clear about these concerns? What setting would you like to be in—the hospital, home, or hospice home? These broad conversations can be more valuable than trying to anticipate particular interventions.
Myth: There is only one advance directive.
Fact: Advance directives are documents that put your wishes on paper. These usually include a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney (also known as Healthcare Power of Attorney or Healthcare Agent). There are many different forms that are available. Each state has advance directive forms, and online advance directives are available as well. Whatever forms you decide to use, be sure to read them carefully to make sure that you follow legal requirements determined by your state. For example, some states (like North Carolina) require notarization. At the Family House, we use Five Wishes because it is legal in most states and because of the simple language it uses. To learn more about Five Wishes, go to: https://fivewishes.org
Myth: Advance care planning assumes that you don’t want aggressive treatment.
Fact: The whole concept of advance care planning is that you can indicate what you want. If you do want every type of aggressive intervention and life-sustaining treatment, then you can specify this. If you prefer to have palliative care that focuses on quality of life and relief of suffering, then you can specify this. There are no right or wrong answers or wishes. The important thing is to make your wishes known to your healthcare agent, family, and doctor.
Myth: Advance directives need to be kept in your safe deposit box.
Fact: Completed advance directives need to be kept in an easily accessible place, and you need to give copies to your healthcare agent as well as your doctor. If you do happen to change your advance directives, be sure to destroy old copies and distribute new copies. You don’t need a lawyer to complete advance directives like a living will and a medical power of attorney. If you do decide to use a lawyer to help with other important matters such as a durable power of attorney and a last will and testament, then you can also complete advance directives with your lawyer.
This information is just a start. To learn more about advance care planning, check out this comprehensive website of links and resources designed to answer lots of questions.
Advance care planning is a gift to your family and friends. These conversations and documents can offer clarity and peace of mind. Why don’t you start the conversation today?