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What is the purpose of a health care directive?

When you’re building an estate plan, one of the things your attorney will speak with you about is a health care directive. A health care directive is an important legal document that may have an impact on you during your life. It is designed to protect you if you cannot make your own medical decisions.

With a health care directive, you’re giving another person the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. For example, if you get into a car accident and are unconscious, your health care directive will appoint someone who can decide if you should or should not go through certain treatment options.

A health care directive is important during your life

A health care directive impacts you if you fall seriously ill or if you cannot make decisions about your care. It should include information about your medical preferences so that the agent you choose can make those decisions knowing what you would have decided for yourself.

For instance, if you are in your 70s and do not want to have life-saving measures taken if you have a heart attack, you can include this in your health care directive and even go as far as to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. Some people, especially those who are very ill and who do not want any excessive life-preserving actions taken, will wear a DNR bracelet, neckless or other alert item.

Should you talk to your health care agent before you sign off on the directive?

Yes. Before you sign any health care directive and assign an agent for an emergency situation, you should make sure you talk to them about wanting them to fulfill this role. It’s usually a good idea to have someone take this role if they are comfortable in medical environments and can make good decisions based on the medical information they’re provided. You should choose someone who you trust and who is willing to do what you would do if you had the opportunity to choose for yourself.

If they are okay with becoming this agent in an emergency, then you should consider adding them to your estate plan as your health care agent.