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Quick Guide to Advance Directives. Who Needs Them?

Whether we’re prepared or not, some of us will face a time in our lives when we face difficult medical decisions about treatment options we prefer. In some cases, we may be unable to make our own choices known due to physical or mental incapacitation.

This could happen later in life or sooner than expected due to an accident or an unexpected illness. It can happen to you or someone you care about.

As you can imagine, it can be difficult for others who care about you to make critical decisions for you. Would you prefer one treatment or an alternative? At what point would you discontinue or change treatment?

By planning now, you can make some decisions affecting your health care in the future. If you’re unable to make your choices known at that time, you can name someone you trust to make other decisions on your behalf.

You can express your preferences through Advance Directives.


What Are Advance Directives?

The four Advance Directives include:

  • Power of Attorney for Health Care. You complete this form to authorize others, a health care agent and an alternate, to make certain health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

    You may indicate in the form if you’d like your agents to be able to admit you to a nursing home or community-based residential facility.

    The directive also lets you decide ahead of time if you’d like to make or decline to make an anatomical gift (a donation of part or all of your body for medical use after your death).

    You may also indicate your wishes about life-sustaining approaches such as feeding tubes.

    The Power of Attorney for Health Care does not allow your agents to admit or commit you as an inpatient at a facility for mental diseases.
  • Declaration to Physicians (Living Will). This form allows you to state your preferences for life-sustaining procedures and feeding tubes if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state. The Power of Attorney for Health Care and Living Will work hand in hand.
  • Authorization for Final Disposition. This document allows you to designate another person to make funeral arrangements on your behalf. You can also express your wishes for your remains (burial, cremation or another option).
  • Power of Attorney for Finance and Property. This grants control of your finances and property to someone you designate if you’re unable to make your own decisions. We suggest you check with an attorney or professional financial advisor for guidance on the Power of Attorney for Finance and Property.

You should be thoughtful about completing your Advance Directives. Don’t be pressured to make decisions you’re not comfortable with.

An Advance Care Planning Guide can help you better understand and consider your options. 

We highly recommend attending a free advance care planning workshop. Group and one-on-one workshops are available. Just as you likely wouldn’t fill out mortgage paperwork on your own, it’s best to have assistance with your advance directives. Trained facilitators at the workshops can give you beneficial guidance about making the right choices for you, along with how to have your forms witnessed by others as defined by state law.

A completed Advance Directive for Health Care can only become active when trained professionals such as physicians have determined that you’re incapacitated. Being old, eccentric or having a physical disability are not sufficient to declare a person incapacitated.


Communicate Your Preferences

You should visit with your health care agents in advance so they know what your wishes are. You can explain what you want to happen if you become incapacitated. When you attend the advance care planning workshop, we suggest your chosen health care agents attend with you.


Let Your Loved Ones Know

Let your family know about your advance directives. Store your forms where others who may need them can easily find them. Let loved ones know where you keep your Advance Directives. Your health care providers and agents should have copies of the forms, too.

If you live in Wisconsin, Illinois or one of 38 specific states, you may use the “Five Wishes”® form to express your advance directive choices.

Going through your advance directive options now can make a potentially difficult situation a bit easier for your loved ones. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing your preferences will be fulfilled if the need should ever arise.

If you’d like specific guidance about advance directives, call 800-863-5502. Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit organization.

Meet the Author

Timothy J. Jessick, DO is a hospice and palliative medicine physician at Aurora West Allis Medical Center.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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