Some elderly adults eventually reach the point they can no longer make medical decisions on their own behalf due to an illness or injury. One of the best ways for a senior to ensure that their healthcare wishes are being honored if they become incapacitated is by setting up an advance medical directive.

An advance medical directive is a legal document that tells friends, family members and healthcare professionals which life-sustaining medical treatments a loved one does not want to receive. And, if your family member has one, you should know how it works.

Types of Advance Medical Directives

These are the two main types of advance medical directives, and a person may have both:

Living Will

This lets others, including healthcare providers, know the specific types of life-sustaining medical care that a person does not want to receive if they can no longer speak on their own behalf. Each state has their own living will laws, and once it’s been signed a living will becomes a legally binding document. That living will then takes effect when a designated individual can no longer make healthcare decisions on their own behalf.

These are some of the specific medical treatments that an individual might otherwise receive during a life-threatening situation that a living will prohibits them from receiving:

  • Resuscitation if they stop breathing or if their heart stops, including CPR
  • Dialysis and breathing machines
  • Palliative care for pain management
  • Tube feeding, including artificial nutrition and hydration methods

A living will might also contain instructions for organ or tissue donations after the person dies.

Medical Power-of-Attorney (POA)

A medical power-of-attorney (POA) is also called a “healthcare proxy”, “appointment of healthcare agent” or “durable power of attorney for healthcare”. It allows an individual to designate another person (agent) to make medical care decisions on their behalf in the event they are temporarily or permanently unable to do so. As such, a medical POA may come into play during any life-threatening situation. And, a POA might only be in effect for a short period of time until the individual recovers and can make decisions on their own behalf once again.

What if You’re the POA?

When a loved one has designated you as their healthcare POA, it’s a major responsibility. To make sure their wishes are being respected, prepare ahead of time by taking these steps:

  • Carefully read over the advance directive document(s).
  • Keep a copy of the document(s) in an easily accessible, secured location.
  • Notify all family members that you are the POA.
  • Have ongoing conversations with your loved one about their objectives, and update the directive’s wording as needed.
  • Know your legal rights as their healthcare proxy.
  • Make sure that you clearly understand the medical terminology that’