Updating Healthcare Directives

It’s always a good idea to look at your estate planning and advanced healthcare directive documents every year. Things can change over a year: your health or financial situation may change, someone listed in your documents may pass away or move, or your attitudes about a particular procedure or intervention may change. So take a look every year and make sure your documents still align with your wishes.

Estate planning usually is understood to refer to your finances and your property – what is considered your “estate” when you die. You should certainly review your will and other estate decisions yearly to make sure you are leaving your wealth to the people or organizations you wish to have them.

But another important aspect of estate planning is your advanced healthcare directive, also called a “living will.” Your living will allows you to specify:

  • Whether or not you want life-sustaining medical care, what kind, and under what situations
  • Whether or not you want to donate your organs or tissues, if you are a candidate
  • What you consider your acceptable quality of life
  • What comfort care you would like provided
  • Any other instructions you would like followed, regarding moral, religious, or ethical considerations
  • What family member(s) or friend(s) will be responsible for carrying out these directives if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself (your medical power of attorney)

When you first created your living will, you probably went over these questions thoroughly and gave them a great deal of thought. Over the course of the year, however, you may hear of new medical technology that you do or don’t want; you may change your mind about whether or not you’ll donate your organs; you may lose a family member who was named as a medical power of attorney.

For instance, maybe you have a friend who benefited from a ventilator during Covid-19, giving your friend time to recover. If you said “no ventilators” in your living will, you may want to modify that directive, such as adding “if there is no expectation of recovery.”

You should also have another conversation with your medical power of attorney and alternate powers of attorney. It’s a good idea to have two other people mentioned in case the primary person is unavailable in an emergency or passes away before you’re able to change your living will. Discuss your preferences and make sure the people you have named still hold the same views you do and will carry out your wishes.

Updating your documents yearly will ensure that your wishes will be fulfilled, if you are ever unable to speak for yourself.


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