Explanation of Advance Healthcare Directive & Why You Should Have One

Have you ever wondered who would make decisions for you in the event that you became incapacitated and unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself?

Perhaps your mind rests on your spouse or significant other? Indeed, usually that is the person who’s given default authority in the event you can’t make decisions for yourself.

But, what if you’re going through a divorce, your spouse is deceased or equally incapacitated, or if you don’t have a legal partner? Or what if you just have specific requests about your care in the event you are seriously injured?

That’s where an advance healthcare directive (AHD) comes in, and the defining reason for its importance – having your wishes for care made clear to those in charge and that a person you trust will be the one to make decisions on your behalf, even if it isn’t the person the state would recognize by default.

What Is an Advance Healthcare Directive?

Simply put, an AHD is a record of your wishes and preferences for the types of care you receive or don’t want to receive at the end of your life.

Essentially, it’s a legal way of letting people you love, and those caring for you, know the lengths you want them to go through to diagnose and treat whatever may be ending your life, as well as if you’d like to be resuscitated and if you’re a donor.

What Does an Advanced Directive Form Do?

By utilizing an advanced directive form, you’re taking the heartache and guesswork out of the hands of your loved ones and retaining control in a situation where you’re otherwise incapacitated.

Your AHD will never expire and is legally valid throughout the entire United States; however, one state’s AHD is not always recognized by another state if the laws upholding it conflicts with those of the state you’re incapacitated in. So, if you spend a lot of time in a different state, or if you move out of state, you should update your AHD to be in accordance with the laws of your state of primary residence.

Important Things to Know About an AHD

  • Your advance health directive doesn’t actually go into effect until after you are in the hospital and your condition of incapacitation has been evaluated and acknowledged.

    What that means is, if you are rushed to the hospital by an ambulance with emergency personnel, their primary objective is to keep you alive, even if it technically violates your AHD. An example of this would be resuscitation or other life-prolonging measures you may not have wanted.

  • Since the AHD doesn’t expire, in order to change it you simply create a new one. The most recent version is given priority and invalidates all older versions.
  • You should review your AHD whenever you review your estate plan, or at least once every couple of years or following a major life event like birth or divorce. That way you can make sure your wishes are still represented and any updates are accounted for in a new AHD, if necessary.

Who Should Have an AHD?

Everyone, married or not, should have an AHD as part of their estate plan. However, two groups that can most benefit from AHD’s are unmarried or widowed people and people in a partnership that isn’t legally recognized.

If you are in a relationship besides legal marriage, your partner may face substantial problems in making medical decisions on your behalf because they are technically not recognized as someone who has the authority to do so, and they can endure extreme emotional stress and heartache being locked out of your important medical decisions.

Unfortunately, if you are unmarried and do not have an AHD in place, the state will decide who can make decisions on your behalf, and that person does not have to take your partner’s wishes, or your wishes, into account.

What Are the Main Benefits of Having an AHD in Place?

Completing your AHD means your wishes for end-of-life care will be noted and you can assign a person you trust to make decisions for you that may not be explicitly cover in your AHD. That trusted individual; spouse or not, then has the power to:

  • Visit you in the hospital or similar facility outside of visiting hours
  • Hire and fire specialists and other medical professionals
  • Get a second opinion on your behalf
  • Access your medical records
  • Petition the court for authorization to enforce your AHD if the hospital will not comply
  • Make medical decisions not explicitly covered in your AHD

Who can establish an AHD?

Anyone over the age of 18 and of sound mind and body can setup their advance healthcare directive. You can draft a advance directive form yourself following the guidelines of your state of residence, or you can download one online.

Make Sure You Keep Your Advance Health Directive Accessible & Your Wishes Known

It’s important to remember that in addition to filling out and signing your advance directive form, you’ll need to also keep it accessible (like with your estate planning documents) and you’ll want to inform key people of your wishes. It’s usually a good idea to share your end-of-life wishes with your doctor, spouse, parents, and anyone else who may have some hand in your care.

It may be uncomfortable or difficult to imagine a time when you’re unable to care for yourself or make critical decisions about your own care, but it does happen to people and it’s best to be prepared.

Having your advance health directive ready will give someone you trust the power to help you and make those critical decisions on your behalf, and they’ll have a comprehensive guide with your own wishes to help lessen some of the heartache those big decisions and uncertainty can cause.