We are a society of planners. We plan for marriage, children, college and even retirement, yet many do not prepare for end of life or unexpected circumstances in our health.
Advance care planning helps your loved ones and health care providers know your goals of care so that they can honor your wishes when you are unable to speak for yourself. Imagine if you ever had an accident, stroke, surgery, or are diagnosed with a serious illness, you may need someone to advocate for your wishes, have you told anyone your wishes and have you put it in writing?
What is advance care planning?
To put it simply, advance care planning is a process where you discuss and plan for the care you would want to receive if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
Advance care directives are the actual documents a person completes to ensure their wishes are carried out. This can include:
- A living will
- Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA)
- Five wishes document
- MOST form
- DNR form
The living will, healthcare power of attorney, and five wishes document can all be completed with the signature of the individual completing the document, a notary, and two non- family witnesses. The MOST form and DNR form are considered a Physicians order and only require MD signature.
In North Carolina the living will allows you to state your desire to not receive life prolonging measures in any or all of the following situations:
- You have an incurable condition that will likely result in death within a short period of time
- You are unconscious, and your doctors are confident that you will not regain consciousness
- You have advanced dementia or other substantial and irreversible loss of mental function.
Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA)
A HPOA is a legal document in which you name another person (known as a health care agent) to make decisions for you when you are no longer able to make decisions yourself.
A HPOA only becomes effective when your physician determines that you lack the capacity to make informed decisions.
It is important to put great thought into who you choose to be your health care agent. Consider that it needs to be someone who knows you well and understands what quality of life means to you, is available and accessible when needed, and someone who is not afraid to stand up for you in the event your wishes differ from other family members.
It’s completed…now what?
Once you have completed your advance care directives put the original in a safe place, make copies for health care providers (Physicians, Home Health, Hospice, hospital etc…) and make sure to give a copy to your HPOA.
We also recommend putting one in the glove compartment of your car or creating a wallet card that tells that you have an advance directive and the phone number of your HPOA.
It is a fact that most people do not make the best most informed decisions in the middle of a crisis. It is better to speak up now and talk about your wishes with your family and put them in writing so that you can make a decision with a level head. If for no other reason consider this, when you state your wishes and complete an advance care directive you have removed that decision making burden from your family. It is much easier to advocate and honor those wishes when they are in writing and made by the individual than it is if your family has to decide without any knowledge of what you would want.
Advance care planning is not just for our elderly it is for all adults. It is never too soon to start planning for the unexpected. Speak up and talk with your family. Now is the best time.
Article written by April Barbour-Matthews, social worker at the SECU Hospice House.
In my career as a Social Worker in end of life care I have encountered numerous families who have struggled with whether or not they made the right decision or actually can’t make a decision because they did not have any prior knowledge of their loved one wishes. Care enough to speak up.
View April’s powerpoint presentation for our Advance Planning event.