One Person's Opinion: Most Important Document

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The most important document to have is an advanced directive.

A number of people have asked my opinion on the most important document to complete as they work on their various estate planning documents. Or: what should I start with?

My personal opinion is—hands down—your advance directive. An advance directive is the written statement of your wishes regarding medical treatment, and often includes a living will, made to ensure that your wishes are carried out should you be unable to communicate them to a doctor. Usually, as a part of your advance directive, you appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to do so. They are called (amongst other things) your Health Care Proxy.

What's an Advanced Directive?

Why do I think this should be your first priority? Here’s the thing: the majority of us are more likely to suffer a medical event than to die unexpectedly. An advance directive allows you to tell your loved ones precisely what your priorities are and what is most important to you.

With the guidance of your advanced directives, your Health Care Proxy (also known as your Health Care Agent, or Power of Attorney for Health Care), can be your voice when you are unable to speak for yourself. They can ask your medical team about prognosis, potential challenges, or simply: “what does success look like?”

Unfortunately, the definition of success can look very different to a surgeon or medical professional than it does to a loved one. Asking questions and getting the best understanding of what the results of a procedure or a treatment, paired with your advance directive, will give your Health Care Proxy the best shot at doing things as you would do them for yourself.

How do I set up an advanced directive?

If you would like some guidance on how to select and what questions to ask your Health Care Proxy, I encourage you to check out The Conversation Project’s starter kit on How to Choose a Health Care Proxy & How to be a Health Care Proxy. They share valuable information on why this person is so vital, as well as the qualities you’ll want in your Health Care Proxy.

The resource Caring Info, which is the national consumer education and engagement program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), provides access to free advanced directives by state. Reminder: fill out the form, but wait to sign it in the presence of two witnesses (generally, neither of whom can be your Health Care Proxy.)

Do you feel daunted by this process? Here are some tips:

  • Make it a family (or friend) affair!

    • Completing these types of forms on their own can feel daunting and isolating. Consider making a coffee (or drink) date with a friend or members of your family. You can have a conversation about what is important to you, and why. Also, the act of verbalizing these thoughts might help clarify what is important to you.

  • Give me a call!

    • If you need a little more help and support in this process, I would love to help you. Schedule your complimentary 30 minute consultation here so you can learn more about how we can work together.

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