An advanced health care directive—also called a living will—enables you to make choices regarding your health care and relieves family, friends, or your health care advocate of making these decisions.  Each state and/or medical care facility requires different documents.

It is important that you express your health care desires to anyone who will be involved in decisions regarding your care if/when you cannot speak for yourself:  These might include your spouse, son or daughter, siblings, a trusted friend—and definitely the person who has your health care power of attorney.   A copy of your advanced health care directive should be kept with your will and other important documents, and a copy should be given to your health care provider or medical facility.

Here are some guidelines to assist in having this discussion with family or friends who will be responsible for your health care.

-Open the conversation by asking: “If you could no longer speak for yourself and your condition is considered terminal, what would be your desires?  Would you want aggressive treatment extending your life or would you rather be kept comfortable?  Would you rather be in a nursing facility or at home?”  Getting them to talk about their desires will provide the opportunity for your to express your own wishes.

-Use a current event to open the conversation.  Example:  “I heard on the news about doctors keeping a man alive in a vegetative state for three years.  Would you want that?  I sure wouldn’t.  That is why I have expressed my wishes in this document…”

-Open the discussion by saying: “I know this isn’t easy to talk about, but if I can no longer express my wishes regarding my health care, here is what I want done….”

-Ask for their help by saying:  “While I was in the doctor’s office, I picked up this form called ‘Advanced Health Care Directive’.  Would you mind checking it over to see if I completed it correctly?

If you have difficulty talking about this subject, prepare a letter or video expressing your wishes.