April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day. While some of the seemingly fake holidays can make one roll their eyes, others, like Health Care Decisions Day (and Be Kind To Lawyers Day) are valuable reminders to pause and take care of important business.
We are all in charge of our own health care decisions while we are competent and able to communicate, but an accident or illness can render us unable to express our wishes or understand our condition. In those situations, another person needs legal authority to step in and communicate your wishes and make critical decisions for you. You can nominate this person ahead of time to serve as your health care proxy by signing a document that has different names depending on your state. Massachusetts calls the document a health care proxy, others call it a health care power of attorney or advance directive.
Whatever it is called where you live, it is crucial that you sign one. It is equally as important that you talk to the person you are nominating to let them know what your wishes are in the event they need to step in and assist you. You can also write down your wishes for your proxy. This document is sometimes called a living will.
I always make sure to include health care decision planning with my client’s other work, but you can download a free advance directive from the South Shore Hospital website if you are in Massachusetts. If you are in a different state, visit the National Health Care Decisions Day website to find the form for your state. There are lot of great resources there for documenting your wishes and talking to family members about health care decisions during a serious illness. (I put Five Wishes Living Wills in my siblings’ and parents’ stockings one Christmas. You will need to decide if that is the best way to go about things in your family…)
If you already have a health care proxy and document about your wishes, look it over to make sure it is up to date and still reflects what you want. I will be doing the same!
P.S. If you are confused about the different terminology, click here to learn the difference between health care proxies, living wills, DNR, etc.,