We all hope that we will never suffer an accident or illness that leaves us incapacitated, but the reality is that this situation does sometimes happen. Like most people, you probably have some idea of the decisions you would prefer to make in those circumstances. But unfortunately, the very nature of your injury or illness might leave you unable to communicate those wishes.

An Advance Medical Directive is designed to help you communicate those values and preferences ahead of time. If such a situation never occurs to you (and we hope it doesn’t) then there’s no harm done in drawing up a medical directive. But if that situation does occur, the advance medical directive serves to protect you, ensure that your wishes are followed, and even relieve some of the emotional burden for your loved ones.

Yes, an Advance Medical Directive helps your family, too. After all, having to make important decisions during such a situation can be enormously stressful. Your spouse, children, or other loved ones might feel unsure of what you would want. They might even disagree. Your advance medical directive can smooth the way toward making decisions that could otherwise be incredibly difficult.

An Advance Medical Directive can fall into three categories: living will, power of attorney, or healthcare proxy.

A living will specifies the type of medical treatment you would prefer in certain situations, such as end-of-life care, pain relief, artificial feeding, resuscitation, and so on.

A healthcare proxy simply gives decision-making power to another person. You can choose a person that you trust, with whom you have had conversations about your values, religious beliefs, preferences for care, and other topics that might concern you.

A durable power of attorney gives legal rights and responsibilities to someone to act on your behalf with regard to business and financial matters. In the event that you are incapacitated, this person can step in to manage your bank accounts, pay bills, apply for disability benefits if needed, and conduct other types of business for you.

In addition, you can designate more than one person for different roles. One person could act as your power of attorney for financial matters, while another is tasked with handling healthcare decisions.

Essentially, everyone needs some sort of Advance Medical Directive. Any of us could become incapacitated at any time, and we all have financial and other matters to handle. You might also feel concerned about life-sustaining efforts in a variety of situations (that you either do or do not want). These directives serve to ensure that your rights and your wishes are respected.

If you haven’t already, contact an estate planning attorney to discuss an Advance Medical Directive. According to your exact situation they can help you draw up the documents to protect your rights and help your loved ones at a difficult time, should one ever occur. If you’d like, we’d be happy to refer you to a reputable attorney in the local area.