Planning for future healthcare needs can offer peace of mind during trying times. Whether you know you have a progressive illness now or obtain an unplanned but serious injury later, advance directives, including healthcare directives, are ways to plan for your healthcare needs when you are no longer able to do so.

Healthcare directives can be changed as your life circumstances and health changes. Because they are legal documents, it’s important to understand available options and the impacts of what you’re signing.

Types of Advance Directives

A living will can provide guidance to doctors about your plans if you are dying become permanently unconscious. The will lets you specifically identify medical procedures that you do and do not wish to receive. Durable powers of attorney, or POAs, can supplement or be used in place of a living will.

They allow you to appoint someone, often called a “healthcare proxy,” you trust to make medical decisions for you when you become unable to do so. Because of this, they are particularly beneficial if you are in an unanticipated accident and quickly need someone to speak on your behalf. Numerous other forms exist to aid medical decisions as well.

Preparing Yourself for the Future

Before executing any legal documents, it’s important to know what you value, how you wish to spend the end of your life, and what medical procedures you would or would not want to receive. It may help to seek guidance from your physician about what makes sense for your health and potential impacts on other decision makers in your life. When creating a POA, it is important that the healthcare proxy is well-informed about your wishes and has a copy of the POA document.

When individuals do not have a plan for the future, courts will appoint someone to make medical care decisions. That person may or may not share your same values and may not make the same choices you would have made for yourself. It is understandably difficult to think about your future medical care needs, but doing so now will allow you to be in charge of your own decisions.