We have recently seen one or two stories in the news that have brought the issue of health care directives to forefront of people’s minds. Most people know that a healthcare directive is one of the primary documents of any complete estate plan, but not everybody knows exactly what should be included in the document itself. Do you have to specifically name your spouse if you want that person making decisions for you? Is the healthcare directive the place to include a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) statement? What about funeral arrangements or organ donation—does a healthcare directive deal with things that happen after death?

These are all good questions; here we attempt to answer these questions and more, as well as list some of the important things to know about—and include in—your healthcare directive:

  1. Healthcare directives can have many names depending on where you live and the exact nature of the document. Some common names are: Advanced healthcare directive, Advance directive, Healthcare power of attorney, or living will. (Note: These are not all the same document with different names, but they do all serve similar or related functions. Contact our office for more information)
  2. A healthcare directive should first and foremost name your healthcare agent: the person you want making decisions for you when you are unable.
  3. A healthcare directive should absolutely include your wishes and preferences for healthcare treatment, including a DNR statement, preferences for artificial nutrition and hydration, antibiotics, pain relief, and other medications.
  4. Your healthcare directive should include the name of your primary care physician, if you have one, as well as any pertinent medical history or conditions.
  5. Healthcare directives can be written to reflect your religious or spiritual beliefs, including religious beliefs relating to blood transfusions, end of life care, and pregnancy.
  6. A healthcare directive can and should make reference to post-mortem issues such as organ donation and funeral arrangements. Whether or not your wishes can be enforced may depend on your family and the state in which you live, but including your wishes may be of considerable help and comfort to your family.