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Advanced Health Care Directives are for All Ages

Estate planning is not for the dead or dying – it's for the living. Its purpose is for an individual to express his or her wishes so that they can be carried out when that individual is unable to do so. Too many people fail to place value in preparation. Too many people must think they are invincible and that accidents "don't happen to people like them." These are such obvious fallacies, yet they are rampant in our society. If they weren't – everyone would have an estate plan. This article is for the 20-somethings and 30-somethings and 40 plus-somethings who believe that they're "too young" to plan. It's for the invincibles.

The Advanced Health Care Directive is a plan necessary for individuals of all ages. It is the document where one dictates the person in his or her life they trust the most to make decisions relative to his or her health care. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, the Terri Schiavo case was well-known. Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years. Her husband wanted to remove her feeding tubes that were keeping her alive. Her parents wanted to leave it in place. Ms. Schiavo did not have an Advanced Health Care Directive. She left no indication of whose medical opinion she valued most. She left no instruction about what she wanted. If she had an Advanced Health Care Directive, she likely would have identified either her husband or her parents as the decision-maker. There would have been no need for a 15 year battle. Ms. Schiavo was only 26 when she took ill.

In addition to designating a person to carry out one's wishes, an Advanced Health Care Directive allows an individual to articulate his or her specific desires. For example, it allows each individual to express whether he or she wants to be medically treated for an illness contracted while in a coma. It also allows individuals to decide whether it is more important for that person to be kept pain-free or life-support free when given the choice.

The Advanced Health Care Directive can be written to only take effect when an individual lacks capacity. Capacity is typically decided by either a court order or doctor's declaration. It can also be written to take effect immediately. Even a person who has capacity may not want the pressures of making important health care decisions when he or she doesn't feel strong and clear-headed. Designating a trusted person can lighten the burden of an painful, uncomfortable experience.

The time to prepare an Advanced Health Care Directive is as soon as possible. Planning is not about expecting death. It's about the living.

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