Sometimes people become unable to make health care decisions for themselves due to accidents or serious illness. According to state and federal laws, you have the right to decide how you are medically treated if you are in this situation. These laws ensure that your personal wishes will be respected even if you are too sick to make your wishes known. In order to prepare for these situations in advance, you can express your wishes in a legal document called an “advance directive.”
There are three common types of advance directives: a living will, a health care surrogate, and anatomical donation.
- A Living Will is your set of personal instructions about your medical care and treatment. A Living Will lets your doctor and family know what kind of medical care you want or do not want if you are very ill and cannot express your wishes.
- A Health Care Surrogate is someone who you choose to make medical decisions for you in case you are not able to communicate your own choices. A health care surrogate should be someone you trust to make choices on your behalf.
- An Anatomical Donation is a document that indicates your wish to donate all or part of your body at death. This can be an organ and tissue donation to persons in need. This can also be a donation of your body for education and research. You can indicate your choice to be an organ donor by designating it on your driver’s license or state identification card. You can also fill out a uniform donor form or express your wish in a living will.
Remember, it is your choice whether or not to file an advance directive. Your health plan does not discriminate against you based on whether or not you have signed an advance directive.
If you do choose to have an advance directive, follow these simple steps:
- Get the form.
- There are many places to get advance directives forms. We have included many resources below where you can locate the appropriate forms.
- Decide what your wishes are and discuss with appropriate people.
- Be sure to ask your intended health care surrogate if they agree to take on this responsibility. Make sure to discuss with them how you would like matters handled.
- Fill it out, sign it, and file it.
- Remember this is a legal document. You may want to consult your attorney for assistance. Some states have a registry where you can file your advance directives. Consult the resources below for more information.
- New York State requires two witnesses when filling out living wills and health care proxy forms.
- Give copies to the appropriate people.
- Make sure that your health care provider, attorney, and the significant persons in your life know that you have an advance directive and where it is located. You may want to give them a copy as well.
- Keep it safe.
- Set up a file where you can keep a copy of your advance directive and other important paperwork. Some people keep original papers in a bank safety deposit box. You may also want to keep copies at your house or information concerning the location of your safety deposit box.
- Keep a card or note in your purse or wallet that states that you have an advance directive and where it is located.
- Keep it up-to-date.
- If you change your advance directive, make sure your health care provider, attorney and the significant persons in your life have the latest copy
For more information about advance directives or to access Advance Directive forms, visit the following resources:
New York State Department of Health
Website: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/conditions/dementia/adv_care_planning.htm This official state website provides access to important information and Health Care Proxy forms in English, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.
Aging with Dignity
Phone: (888) 594-7437
This organization has a document called Five Wishes. This document allows you to express how you want to be treated if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. This document meets the legal requirements of an Advance Directive in North Carolina and most other states.
Phone: (800) 658-8898
Caring Connections is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). This organization works to improve care at the end of life. Their website provides many resources for planning ahead. You can also download your state-specific Advance Directives.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Website: http://www.aarp.org (type “advance directives” to search)
This website offers several helpful articles about future planning.
Compassion and Support
This website is maintained by the New York based Community-Wide End-of-Life/Palliative Care Initiative. It provides many New York-specific resources on end of life planning and Advance Directives. Helpful brochures and pamphlets include Advance Care Planning Booklet, Planning Your Health Care in Advance (Created by New York State Attorney General), and the New York State Bar Association Pamphlet on Living Wills and Health Care Proxies.
Do Your Proxy
This free on-line tool allows you to create, print and save a Health Care Proxy and Living Will.