All About Advance Care Planning

Key Points

Planning for challenging situations is something we all know we should do, but it can be incredibly difficult to start. Yes, it can be an unsettling process—but the fact remains that advance care plans are something everyone should have. It’s not just just about old age, either. At any age, a medical crisis could leave you too ill to make your own health care decisions. Advance care planning gives you the power to make your wishes known now, so that your care is done according to your ideals later.

Even if you’re not currently experiencing health issues, planning for health care in the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you want. In the event that you’re unable to speak for yourself and doctors and family members are making the decisions for you, they’ll have your care planning as an indisputable guide.

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is exactly what it sounds like — planning for your health care, in advance. This involves figuring out what types of choices you may need to make about your health and health preferences. You’ll need to think about these choices, make them ahead of time, and then write them down and communicate them to your loved ones and medical providers. These preferences are often put into an advance directive, a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself as the result of disease or severe injury. Regardless of your age, you should have a document letting others know what you want.

An advance directive also allows you to express your values and desires related to end-of-life care. You can change it as your preferences or circumstances change, but the most important thing is to get started and to have a first draft complete.

How do I make my advance care wishes known?

Once you’ve gone through an advance care process, there are two core artifacts that you should end up with: a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Let’s dive in a bit more to each of these items.

A living will is a document where you’ll tell doctors how you want to be treated if you cannot make your own decisions about medical treatment. In a living will, you can say what treatments you would want, which ones you wouldn't want, and under which conditions each of your decisions would apply.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare, also commonly known as a medical power of attorney, allows you to elect an individual who can make treatment decisions for you if you can't speak or decide for yourself. This is a critically-important decision, so it’s one you should consider carefully. Typically, this person does not have the ability to supersede your living will wishes unless you explicitly grant them that authority in the document.

What are some advance care decisions I might make?

While there are a huge number of issues that you may want to be specific about, here are some of the common ones that individuals think about. All of these are deeply personal decisions, and as such, it may be helpful to consult with an impartial third party or an advocate from Solace, who can walk you through detailed scenarios and give additional context particularly related to your own healthcare history.

  1. A DNR (do not resuscitate) Order: This tells medical staff that you do not want them to try to restart your heart if it stops or is beating unsustainably using CPR or other life-support measures. These kinds of procedures can sometimes save your life, but other times can be quite challenging to the body. Sometimes, even if successful, resuscitation can result in a body that is alive but has no brain function. Whatever your desire, it’s immensely helpful to have a DNR order as part of your medical file if you go to a hospital. Without a DNR order, medical staff will typically make every effort to restore your breathing and the normal rhythm of your heart.
  2. Organ Donation: This allows organs from a generally healthy person who has died to be transplanted into people who need them. Regardless of your preference, you should outline your donor status in your advance care planning.
  3. Choosing a Health Care Proxy: If you are unable to make decisions for yourself given an illness, you may wish to designate someone to do so. It should be someone who you know well and you can trust to make decisions that are aligned with your beliefs. This can be a family member or a close friend. You can decide how much authority your proxy has over your medical care and specifically designate whether he or she is entitled to make a wide range of decisions, or only a few specific ones.

How to get started with advance care planning?

Once you have spoken with your advocate on Solace, the next step is to fill out the legal forms detailing your wishes. You can choose to work with a lawyer for this process, but you can also do this yourself or with your advocate. If you start the planning process by talking with your advocate, they can work with you to finalize each item. Give copies of your advance directive to your health care proxy and alternate proxy. Give your doctor a copy for your medical records. Tell close family members and friends where you keep a copy. If you have to go to the hospital, give staff there a copy to include in your records, and you’ll be covered in case anything unexpected comes your way.

Sara Sargent
Co-Founder & CPO at Solace

Sara has led creative, brand, marketing and product teams for some of the fastest-growing startups in the U.S. She has written for multiple billionaires, international NBA stars and Nobel Prize winners and is brought to you mostly by multiple shots of espresso, administered daily.

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