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The best time to make an advance care plan is now. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the future can change in a second and highlighted the importance of having plans in place to navigate the unknown. One of the best ways to document your plans is through an advance directive.
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive is a legal form that tells your health care teams what kind of care you want if you are too ill to express yourself. Anyone over 18, regardless of state of health, can complete an advance directive.
One type of advance directive, a power of attorney for health care, is preferred because it makes your care wishes known and designates a person to make decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. In some states, this responsibly automatically is given to family members. In other states, like Wisconsin, it is not automatically assigned. The person you appoint is called your health care agent.
A power of attorney for health care form gives your designated health care agent the right to make decisions on your behalf. Without the form, even a spouse may need to attain legal guardianship to make health care decisions for a loved one. Going through the legal system adds time and money to an already stressful situation. This form does not allow your health care agent to make business or financial decisions on your behalf, and it does not allow for specific decisions about your mental health.
Who can be your health care agent?
Picking a health care agent is important. Your health care agent's role is to work with your medical team and act on the wishes you outlined in your advance directive.
Your health care agent can be anyone, and this choice is not limited to your family members. Also, your health care agent does not need to live near you. Health care organizations connect with people across the country over the telephone or using videoconference technology every day. The most important part is to select a health care agent who you trust to follow your outlined wishes.
Why is now a good time to complete an advance directive?
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of young, healthy adults interested in completing the necessary paperwork for an advance directive has increased. Most people know someone who contracted the virus, and many people know others who were hospitalized or died from the virus.
The first step is to talk with your primary care provider who can direct you to the right resource at your clinic. Social workers and advance care planning facilitators are available to discuss the process with you over the telephone or in person at the clinic.
Each advance directive document must be signed by two witnesses. There are multiple ways to legally secure the necessary witness signatures.
Starting a conversation about advance health care planning can be challenging. Yet you may find that your loved ones are more open to the conversation now than they were a year ago. You can free your loved ones of any feelings of guilt or eliminate any confusion during an emergency by having these conversations and your advance directive in place.
Gina Zumach is a social worker in La Crosse, Wisconsin.