How an advance directive can help your family plan for the future

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-07 20:07:03-04

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people, both old and young were faced with serious illness or a medical emergency that required vital decisions about their medical care, and sometimes those decisions couldn’t be made by the patient themselves. This has brought more awareness to the need for making an advance directive.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, held each year on April 16, is an initiative to encourage people to make an advance directive, or to discuss their wishes about future healthcare decisions and put them in writing. This helps loved ones, providers and facilities be aware of and respect those wishes, whatever they may be. People can also specify about what life-sustaining treatments they do or do not wish to have. Tax season is a great time to think about getting not just tax forms ready, but all personal documents in order.

“During a medical emergency or serious illness, you may not be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Designating a trusted healthcare agent who is aware of your wishes means you’ll have an advocate who can help speak on your behalf,” said Dr. Dominic Moore, a pediatric palliative care physician, with University of Utah Health and medical director of palliative care at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, UT who works with patients with serious illnesses.

“Advance directives are important not just for older adults, but for younger people as well, and even children, especially if they have a chronic condition. These are difficult, but very important conversations to have,” he added.

Dr. Moore says it’s a good idea to update or change advance directives annually, or if one of the “four D’s” occurs:

  • Diagnosis – you receive a serious diagnosis
  • Deterioration – your health is declining
  • Divorce
  • Death of your designated healthcare agent 

He reminds people it’s important to keep all the contact information for yourself and your healthcare agent up to date and check the legal requirements to complete the paperwork in the state where you live.

If you’re over 18, it’s a good idea to have an advance directive in place, since a sudden injury or illness might leave a person unable to make decisions for themselves. Once an advance directive is made it should be shared with loved ones, healthcare providers and the hospital. Forms can be completed online, on paper, at home or in the doctor’s office or hospital.

“Many patients wish they’d done advance care planning earlier. It’s always too early, until it’s too late,” he added.

For more information about advance directives, visit Intermountain or National Healthcare Decisions Day for state-specific requirements. Advance directive forms for Utah in English and Spanish can be found here.