National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16

Photo by Jacob Windham
Photo by Jacob Windham

Have you filled out your health care directive yet? What? You say you’re not old enough to worry about it? How wrong you are!

Most often, these difficult discussions are done with aging parents, as they should be. But! Adults of all ages absolutely should take time to put their wishes and decisions on paper, and inform the family. An accident or medical crisis can and does happen to people of any age. During that crisis is not the time for family members to guess at what care you might want.

Creating a Health Care Directive takes the guesswork out of decision-making through specifics outlined in the document. This directive is free and available online or at your doctor’s office. Once it’s completed and signed, it can be changed, if necessary, without paying for legal help. Below are the basics of this important document.

photo by Azoreg
photo by Azoreg

A Health Care Directive (also known as a Living Will, Advanced Care Directive, Advanced Directive, etc.) specifies your wishes for your health care, including life support, if you become unable to make your own decisions.

Step 1 – Discuss your wishes with your family to ensure that they understand your decisions. This can be a difficult discussion but it will provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones in case of an emergency.

HandshakeStep 2 – Select a Health Care Agent. This person will act on your behalf once the doctor deems you unable to make decisions. This should be a person who understands and accepts your decisions. It can be a family member or friend. However, do not select someone because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, or because they insist that they should be the one making decisions. Your healthcare agent should be able to focus and have your best interests in mind during this difficult time. Be sure they are fully informed and provide them with a copy of your completed and up-to-date directive.

Step 3 – Complete the living will portion of the directive, which specifies yoRefusal_of_treatment_formur wishes through treatment and end-of-life. These decisions include receiving food, treatment, pain management, end-of-life, etc. It also can specify your wishes regarding care if you are permanently disabled, unable to handle daily cares, unable to communicate, dying, after-death procedures, spiritual beliefs, etc.

Step 4 – Make the document legally binding.
1) Sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, who will also sign it. These witnesses Fountain penmust be over 18 years of age, and must not be the person you designate as your Health Care Agent. Neither person should be your health care provider (doctor) or one of their employees.  -or-
2) Sign the document in the presence of a notary public. The person notarizing your document must not be the person you designate as your Health Care Agent. The notary may be an employee of your health care provider.

Step 5 – Provide a copy of your up-to-date health care directive to your doctor(s), immediate family members, and health care agent. Obviously, the document does no good if no one has a copy of it, or even knows it exists.

We don’t know when an emergency may happen, but if it does, being prepared is best for everyone.


Now in its sixth year, National Healthcare Decisions Day was created to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of advanced care planning. On April 16, organizations across the country will provide free assistance in completing a healthcare directive. Check this link for participating organizations around the country.

In Minnesota, the following organizations are offering assistance:
American Academy of Neurology – Karen Kasmirski – 1080 Montreal Ave., St. Paul 55116; 651-695-2780;

Center for Elder Justice and Policy at William Mitchell College of Law – Kim Dayton – 875 Summit Ave., St. Paul; 651-290-6410;

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys – Kim Dayton – 875 Summit Ave., St. Paul; 651-290-6410;

UnitedHealth Group – Wendy Sharpe/Nancy K. Williams – 9701 Data Park Drive, Minnetonka; 952-931-4835;; 800-977-2415

Here are several links to help you get started creating your own health care directive:

State-by-state free healthcare directive forms. Minnesota’s form can be found here.

Five WishesFive Wishes – This document meets the legal requirements in 42 states. You can even complete it online.

If you’re unsure how to get the conversation started with your family (regarding your wishes, theirs, or both), check out the Conversation Project. They offer a Starter Kit pdf to help get the conversation going. The easiest way to make sure your aging parents have a completed directive is to sit down with them and have everyone fill one out.

Planning for the future is never a bad thing – especially when it will save your family having to scramble to make decisions when the unthinkable happens. I’ve got mine done. Now to work on my husband…

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