Creating a living will (also known as an advance directive) is one of those things most people plan to do, but rarely get around to actually doing. Only about one-third of Americans currently have one. Here’s what you should know along with some resources to help you create an advance directive.
To adequately spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment are two key documents: A “living will” which tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a “health care power of attorney” (or health care proxy), which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to.
These two documents are known as an “advance directive,” and will only be utilized if you are too ill to make medical decisions yourself. You can also change or update it whenever you please.
It isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer to prepare an advance directive. There are free or low-cost resources available today to help you create one, and it takes only a few minutes from start to finish.
One that I highly recommend that’s completely free to use is My Directives (MyDirectives.com). This is an online tool and mobile app that will help you create, store and share a detailed, customized digital advance directive. Their easy-to-use platform combines eight thoughtful questions to guide you through the process. If you’re not computer savvy, ask a family member or trusted friend to help you.
The advantage of having a digital advance directive versus a paper document is being able to access it quickly and easily via smartphone, which is crucial in emergency situations when they’re most often needed.
If, however, you’d rather have a paper document, one of the best do-it-yourself options is the Five Wishes advance directive (they offer online forms too). Created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy organization, Five Wishes costs $5, and is available in many languages. To learn more or to receive a copy, visit FiveWishes.org or call 850-681-2010.
Another tool you should know about that will compliment your advance directive is the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST (sometimes called Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or MOLST). A POLST form translates your end-of-life wishes into medical orders to be honored by your doctors. To learn more about your state’s program or set one up, see POLST.org.
If you’ve already prepared an advanced directive paper document, a POLST form or the VA advance directive form 10-0137, you can upload, store and share these documents too at MyDirectives.com.
And finally, to ensure your final wishes are followed, make sure to tell your family members, health care proxy and doctors. If you make a digital advance directive or have uploaded your existing forms, you can easily share them electronically to everyone involved. Or, if you make a paper advance directive that isn’t uploaded, you should provide everyone copies to help prevent stress and arguments later.
Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.