Managing one’s own health care is often a complex process even if there are no serious illnesses or injuries involved. When individuals have age-related health challenges or other illnesses that compromise their ability to make their own medical decisions, it may be difficult to provide the best possible care. Fortunately, Illinois residents have the option to create advance directives to specify their wishes regarding medical care.

According to the National Institute on Aging, advance care planning allows individuals to make medical decisions ahead of time and tell family members and medical professionals about their health care preferences. An advance directive is a legal document that describes these health care decisions. It takes effect if an individual becomes unable to make or communicate his or her medical preferences. Advance directives may also cover decisions relating to end-of-life care.

The Illinois Department of Public Health provides detailed information on four advance directives. For example, a do-not-resuscitate order allows an individual to refuse CPR in certain circumstances. Another directive is a mental health treatment preference declaration. This document allows individuals to decide whether they wish to address mental illness with electroconvulsive treatment and/or receive psychotropic medicine. A person may also use a mental health advance directive to name an attorney-in-fact who may make mental health decisions if necessary.

Living wills and health care power of attorney documents are other common advance directives. A living will may state whether an individual wants to accept or refuse death-delaying procedures if he or she develops a terminal condition. With a health care power of attorney, a person (the “principal”) may name a trusted agent and give him or her the authority to make health care decisions. The agent usually only makes health care decisions if the principal is unable to do so. Advance directives give individuals the ability to express their health care desires and ensure medical professionals adhere to those preferences.