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Preparing for the unexpected with advance care planning

Even otherwise young and healthy adults may benefit from creating advance care plans to voice their medical care preferences in the event of incapacity.

Including advance care planning in their estate plans may help people voice their lifesaving and end-of-life medical care preferences, even if they cannot speak for themselves. No one wants to burden their loved ones with having to make choices on their behalf. However, if people become incapacitated due to illness, injury or age, and they do not have advance care documents in place, they may do just that.

Creating advance care planning documents may help people indicate their preferences in the event they need lifesaving or end-of-life care, alleviating some of the stress on their family members during an already difficult time.

Naming a health care representative

As part of their advance care planning, people may consider establishing a health care representative. Through durable powers of attorney for health care, people may choose an agent to make decisions in their stead regarding medical treatments and care. Principals may discuss their preferences with their chosen health care representatives to ensure that, should the need arise, their agents may make choices with confidence that they have decided as the principals would have. Durable powers of attorney for health care do not take effect until and unless the principals suffer incapacitating injury or illness.

Creating a living will

Legal documents, living wills allow people to provide written direction regarding the treatments they would or would not want if permanently unconscious or dying. Beyond decisions about types of lifesaving and end-of-life treatments, people may also specify the situations in which they would or would not want to receive treatments. For instance, a person may not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation if they have no chance for survival. If, however, they may recover with treatment, they may approve of medical providers administering CPR.

Setting up advance care planning documents

Although living wills may address a wide range of potential decisions, people may want to include additional documents in their advance care plans that pertain to specific issues. Such documents may give direct instruction to medical professionals to not perform certain procedures or treatments. The types of additional documents people may want as part of their advance care plans may include do not resuscitate orders, do not intubate orders, or physician orders for life-sustaining treatment or medical orders for life-sustaining treatment.

Regardless of their age or health, sudden illnesses or injuries may leave people unable to talk for themselves or to make choices for themselves about their medical care. Working with an attorney may help those who do not yet have advance care documents or who need to update their documents to understand their options and create the plans that suit their situations, needs and preferences.