Nearly everyone needs some medical care sometime before they pass away. Often, you cannot make your own health and medical decisions so you want to appoint someone else to make those decisions. This is done through a legal document, which is sometimes called a

For example, you may need someone else to make medical decisions for you if you are

  • in surgery,
  • in pain so serious that it affects your ability to make decisions,
  • unconscious from anesthesia,
  • under the influence of opioids or other pain-relieving medications, or
  • in some other mental state that prevents you from making important health decisions.

For times when you cannot make decisions for yourself, you can have a document in place that appoints a backup decision-maker for you. This is a person who has the legal authority to make health and medical decisions for you. This person is sometimes called a “health care agent” or “power of attorney for health care.”

You always get to make decisions for yourself, if you are able. No document takes your authority away. The document is just there in case you cannot make your own decisions. In other words, a living will doesn’t remove your authority to decide for yourself while you are able to make the decision.

A health care directive can provide significant relief for both you and the one making the decisions for you.

Topics to Address with Your Health Care Agent

In a health care directive, you are able to choose an agent to make your health care decisions for you after you lose the capacity to make those decisions yourself. You can give them guidance regarding your wishes so their decisions can align with your beliefs, values, and concerns.

The following questions, provided by the U.S. Veterans Administration, provide useful topics to discuss with the person you choose to make your health care decisions.

How important are these items to you? You can rate them “not important,” “somewhat important,” and “very important.”

  1. Preserve my quality of life
  2. Be independent
  3. Be alert and competent
  4. Be able to relate to family and friends
  5. Be comfortable and as pain-free as possible
  6. Leave good memories for family and friends
  7. Leave money to family, friends or charity
  8. Let nature take its course
  9. Die in a short time rather than lingering
  10. Live as long as possible, no matter the quality of life
  11. Stay true to my spiritual beliefs and traditions
  12. Help with medical research or teaching

You can answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:

  1. Do you want to take part in making decisions about your care and
  2. Do you always want to know the truth about your condition?
  3. Do you want your finances taken into account when treatment decisions are being made?
  4. Would you want palliative care, which offers comfort measures that focus on relief of suffering and control of symptoms so you can do what is most important to you?
  5. How do you feel about using life-sustaining measures in the face of terminal illness? Do you have strong feelings about certain medical
    treatments (such as mechanical breathing, CPR, feeding tube, kidney dialysis, intensive care, chemo or radiation therapy)?
  6. Would you want to avoid certain treatments only if death was certain?
  7. Would you want certain treatments if used to prolong the dying process?
  8. Would you accept certain treatments to lessen pain?
  9. What will be important to you when you are dying?
  10. Would you prefer at-home hospice care or would you prefer to be in a hospital?
  11. Do you want to be an organ donor?

Providing this guidance to your health care agent can help your agent make decisions that align with your beliefs, values, and concerns.

While a health care directive is not legally required, it is a useful tool and easy to prepare with your other estate planning documents.

Free Living Will Forms and Templates

Contact an attorney in this area