Getting Started with Your Health Care Planning

April 16, 2017

When it comes to planning for your future, it seems like there’s never enough time to make it a priority — until you’re facing a health crisis.

National Healthcare Decisions DayUnfortunately, we hear far too often from family caregivers that they wish they had prepared earlier, started the difficult conversations sooner, or discussed their loved one’s wishes before it was too late.

Imagine for yourself, too, this unthinkable situation: you’re taken unconscious to a hospital, needing life-saving medical care, but are unable to tell your physician what treatment you want. What would happen? And how can you prepare now?

Completing a healthcare advance directive is a good place to start.

Healthcare advance directives are legal forms where you can share your future healthcare and end-of-life care preferences with medical professionals and loved ones. These forms may include living wills and/or powers-of-attorney (sometimes called proxies).

They typically contain information on your specific medical preferences, including aging-in-place or legacy preferences, and your assigned trusted individual for any healthcare decision-making, if you are no longer physically or cognitively able to make such decisions.

Starting the conversation

Another important aspect of healthcare advance directives is actually having the conversation with your loved ones. Arguably, for some, sharing your thoughts with family or friends can be even more difficult than considering the medical- and end-of-life care you may want in the future!

Fortunately, there are many resources available that can help guide these discussions and ease your anxieties.

The Conversation Project provides a Conversation Starter Kit, as well as information on how to choose a health care proxy and how to be a health care proxy, as well as how to talk to your doctor. Additionally, the Scan Foundation has a document on 10 Conversations to Plan for Aging with Dignity and Independence.

Ready to take the next step? Here’s where you can find forms.

Free (state-specific) forms are available from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization here. Low-cost forms (valid in multiple states) are available in various languages from Aging with Dignity here.

Do I need an attorney?

While health care advance directives may be completed with or without an attorney’s assistance, if you have concerns that are not addressed in these online templates, you might consider consulting with an attorney to draft something customized. An attorney can also help answer any specific legal terms or issues.

Looking for other resources to get you started?

There are a number of resources to help make, discuss, and document future healthcare wishes and decisions. Some include:

Aging With Dignity (Five Wishes)
The Five Wishes document is a document that helps people express their medical and legal wishes, but also spiritual and personal. Five Wishes can also help guide family conversations and provide valuable information to family, friends, and your doctor about what good care means to you. The advance directive meets the legal requirements in most states and is available in 20 languages for a fee.

Deathwise is a nonprofit organization that helps people talk about, make decisions, and plan for the end of their lives. Their website includes resources to help you organize financial records, make healthcare decisions, and plan memorial services, among other important topics.

PREPARE is an interactive online interface that helps you make medical decisions for yourself and talk with your doctors. You can also view the site with friends or family members. A printable pamphlet with tips by PREPARE is available here.

National Healthcare Decisions Day

Finally, if you’re looking for a good motivator to start your advance healthcare planning, why not today – the official beginning of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), a weeklong event to educate and empower the public about the importance of advance care planning.

This week, NHDD has a dedicated schedule to guide and empower you in your healthcare decision making. Take a look here for more information on NHDD and their resources.

Do you already have an advance directive care plan? Let us know in the comments how you started planning (and if you have other resources to share).

By Rosie Aquila

Rosie Aquila is Iona’s Communications and Marketing Manager. In her role, Rosie works to share diverse stories from Iona’s team, clients, partners, donors, volunteers, and other community members. A graduate of Kenyon College, Rosie joined Iona’s team in 2014.