Health Care Directives: What Is and Isn’t True

Published in Senior Services, For the Health of It Author: Nola Varilek, Community Outreach, CentraCare Home Health and Hospice

Health Care Directives and death are subjects that most don’t want to talk about with family and friends. But since it’s something that we won’t be able to avoid, we might as well plan for it! And on our own terms as much as possible.

Having a conversation ahead of time about end-of-life care may be among one of the best things you can do for your family or friends. There are many misconceptions about what a Health Care Directive is and what it should include. Review some of the questions below to help you learn more.

Q: We all know that death is something that will eventually happen to all of us. Are the majority of Americans still unprepared for it?

A: TRUE. 90% of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important. However, only 27% report having this conversation.

Q: Whenever you need end-of-life care, having a Health Care Directive benefits your family and friends?

A: TRUE. Having had a conversation about your end-of-life care with family and friends and completing a Health Care Directive helps share your wishes and details about what’s most important to you. But it also has been shown to benefit your loved ones by:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety at what will be a difficult time for them
  • Lessening depression and grief after the loss of a loved one — due to enhanced understanding and honoring of their wishes

It's important to remember that a Health Care Directive is only to be used in circumstances when you can't speak for yourself. But since one can't guarantee that you will always be able to communicate or have a coherent mind — this document can make clear your intentions in advance.

Q: Completing a Health Care Directive requires an attorney.

A: FALSE. Whenever someone is ready, one can download the Honoring Choices Minnesota Health Care Directive (PDF) and complete it on his or her own. To make your Health Care Directive legal, it must be signed, dated and verified by a notary public (or two witnesses ).

However, it’s still a good practice to talk to your health care provider when preparing or revising your Health Care Directive. Your provider may highlight specific things you should include or keep in mind while making your plans.

Q: After you have a Health Care Directive in place, it can be difficult making changes to it.

A: FALSE. If your circumstances or thoughts change over time, you can complete a new Health Care Directive and have it added to your medical record. The most recently dated Health Care Directive found in your medical record is always used.

To create a new Health Care Directive, you can download another and follow the instructions listed in the question above to make it official.

Q: As part of your Health Care Directive, when assigning a personal representative — it’s important to ask that individual if they are comfortable with that responsibility.

A: TRUE: The person you pick to make your medical decisions should be someone:

  • You can talk to about your values and goals
  • Able to follow your wishes
  • Able to make decisions in stressful situations
  • Willing to accept this responsibility

You should not just assume that someone is OK with this role. You need to ask him or her. If one agrees, be sure to provide him or her with a copy of your completed Health Care Directive. You should also provide a copy to your clinic or hospital, so it can be added to your medical record. You should also consider placing it in an accessible place in your home and/or the glove compartment of your car.

A Health Care Directive Should Include the Following Details:
• Choose a trustworthy person as your agent to make health care decisions for you. You can name alternative agents in case the first agent is unavailable.
• Include the types of medical treatment you would want (or not want). Examples include CPR, tube feedings and being placed on a breathing machine.
• Donation of organs, tissues and eyes.
• Circumstances when you would want an autopsy
• Your individual hopes or wishes

All of these topics are discussed in the Honoring Choices Minnesota Health Care Directive at lightthelegacy.org. You can also find this document in Arabic, Chinese, Hmong, Russian, Somali and Spanish at https://www.lightthelegacy.org/health-care-directive-downloads/.

You can view additional common questions and answers about Health Care Directives from the Minnesota Department of Health at https://www.health.state.mn.us/facilities/regulation/infobulletins/advdir.html.