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Advanced Care Planning Explained

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Aging is inevitable, but preparing your end-of-life wishes can be challenging to confront. Although many people defer end-of-life planning until they get older, it's essential to start advanced care planning while you're still young and healthy.

Here's what you need to know about advanced care planning, including what types of advanced care directives to have and why they're important.

What is advanced care planning?

Advanced care planning refers to the process of deciding what type of medical care you'd like to receive if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. It involves having conversations with your loved ones and doctors about your final wishes and recording your plans in a living document. 

Advanced care plans are legally binding. If you become incapacitated and unable to make your own medical decisions, your appointed family members are legally allowed to instruct doctors to provide care based on your wishes. However, if you decide to change your end-of-life medical preferences, you can update your advanced care plan at any time.

What is an advanced directive?

Advanced care plans typically include advanced care directives. These "direct" your loved ones or doctors to make certain decisions on your behalf. An advanced directive isn't a single document. Rather, it's a collection of documents that serve different purposes when you're in need of medical care but can't communicate.

You get to choose the documents in your end-of-life plan, and some of the forms aren't necessary until you're older or you've been diagnosed with a condition that's expected to shorten your lifespan. Here are some of the advanced care directives that you should consider adding to your advanced care plan:

Living will

A living will is the foundation of your advanced care plan. It's a physical document with instructions for your end-of-life medical preferences. If you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes, your loved ones and doctors can look to your living will for instructions on preferred care.

For instance, a living will may include your wishes to receive or not receive specific life-saving measures, such as CPR, mechanical ventilation, feeding tubes, and palliative care.

Healthcare proxy

A healthcare proxy, also called a medical power of attorney, is an individual (usually a family member) you appoint to communicate your end-of-life wishes if you cannot make medical decisions. Having a healthcare proxy can be valuable no matter how old you are. 

For example, if you were undergoing routine surgery and something went wrong while under anesthesia, your healthcare proxy would be able to make medical decisions for you, rather than relying on your doctors to decide the type of care you receive.

Organ and tissue donation directives

It's becoming increasingly common for people to include an advance healthcare directive regarding organ and tissue donations in their advanced health plans. If you were in the hospital and near the end of life, this document tells doctors whether you want your organs and tissues donated to patients in need. Without an organ and tissue donation directive, your healthcare proxy would typically make these decisions, if necessary. 

POLST and MOLST directives

In addition to a living will, some states honor advanced health directives called Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) and Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) forms. However, these forms are only for much older people or those with serious, chronic conditions. 

A POLST form tells medical professionals what type of treatment you do or don't want to receive in an emergency where you cannot speak or communicate. POLST forms are only used for people with chronic illness or nearing the end of life, either due to a medical condition or age. The form should stay with the person everywhere they go in case of an emergency.

For people in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, or who have a life expectancy of one year or less, a MOLST form may be necessary. This document informs healthcare practitioners of a person's medical preferences and life-saving measures. A doctor must sign both the POLST and MOLST forms before taking effect.

Why are advanced care directives important?

An advanced care directive is increasingly important as you get older, but it's a good thing to have at any age. Anyone can unexpectedly find themselves in serious medical situations. An advanced care directive ensures that your doctors can provide the care you want in a worst-case scenario where you cannot make decisions for yourself.

An advanced care directive can provide peace of mind for you and eliminate stress for your loved ones responsible for your medical care. If you don't create an advanced care plan or communicate your final wishes to your family members, they may not know what types of treatments you do or don't want, making the situation even more difficult. 

The role of life insurance in advanced care planning

If you don't already have life insurance, consider purchasing a policy when you're creating your advanced care plan. Life insurance can provide financial support for loved ones after you pass away, and the money from your policy can be used to pay for end-of-life expenses, like final medical bills or funeral costs. 

Ethos sells whole life policies and term life policies, with varying coverage amounts. You can get a free quote for life insurance online, answer a few health questions, and submit your application — no medical exam required. Plus, most applicants can get same-day coverage. If you're not happy with your policy, you can get a full refund within 30 days (no questions asked).

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