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7 Tips for Improving Your Advance Directive

Advance Directive Conversation

Creating an advance directive is an important step in defining your end-of-life wishes. Also known as a living will, healthcare power of attorney, physician orders for life-sustaining treatment and more, an advance directive is a written statement intended to guide medical staff on how to proceed with your care if you’re cognitively/mentally incapacitated.

If you have an advance directive, great—you’re among about 26 percent of Americans who do. But just because it’s written, doesn’t mean it will be followed.

Here are some tips to ensure your advance directive is followed:

  1. Educate yourself on end-of-life medical care, such as resuscitation and life-sustaining treatment. This will give you more insight into what your choices could mean one day. 
  2. Choose a healthcare surrogate with the boldness to speak up for you. An advance directive should be present every time you go to any hospital or nursing facility, every time an ambulance picks you up or you go to a new healthcare provider.
  3. Share and discuss your advance directive with that surrogate and your friends and family members. It’s important for them to know the thought process that went into your choices.
  4. Share and discuss your advance directive with your doctor and other medical professionals. If you change doctors or add specialists, discuss your advance directives with any new members of your healthcare team.
  5. Update your advance directive annually. Your feelings about end-of-life decisions can change over time. 
  6. Check with your doctor to ensure your medical record reflects that you have completed an advance directive, and where to find a copy. 
  7. Make your advance directive easy to find. Keep a copy at home; give copies to your healthcare surrogate, family members and friends. There are smartphone apps and websites that store your advance directive online so it’s always available. If you change your advance directive, replace the old with the new in all of these places.

The Goal

You want to ensure that the people you love and trust are clear on what you would want if you couldn’t speak for yourself. Even if your wishes are clearly stated, a family member or doctor could change the outcome of your advance directive simply by insisting that he or she knows best. Make sure everyone is clear: Advance directives reflect decisions made while you are mentally clear, that you know what’s best for you and that you expect your wishes to be followed.

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