Tips on Creating a Health Care Directive

You’re never too young, or old, to create a health care directive. Also known as a living will, this legally binding document is used to specify the health care decisions taken on your behalf in the event that you are physically and/or mentally incapacitated. Let’s hope this never happens, but if it does, you should have a health care directive to ensure your wishes are fulfilled. Without this document, the burden of making medical decisions will be placed on the shoulders of your family members.

Health Care Directive vs. Medical Power of Attorney

It’s a common assumption that health care directives and medical powers of attorney refer to the same document. While they are both used to specify a person’s medical wishes in the event that he or she is unable to make them, there are a few key differences between them.

A health care directive is typically limited to deathbed concerns, such as whether or not to keep the individual on life support when there’s no brain activity present. A medical power of attorney, on the other hand, is used for a broad range of medical decisions, generally lasting only for the duration during which the individual is incapacitated. It’s also important to note that you can specify a power of attorney – a person who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf – with a medical power of attorney.

What are Your Medical Wishes?

One of the first steps in creating a health care directive is to determine what medical treatments and care practices are acceptable to you. Most people already have a general idea of how they would like to be cared for if they are incapacitated, but you really need to sit down and weigh all of your options before proceeding with it in writing. While you can always modify/amend a health care directive, you want everything to reflect your wishes the first time around.

If you need help with your medical wishes, talk with your family and friends for advice. Sometimes getting a second perspective in the situation may provide insight that allows you to make your own decisions regarding what happens in the event that you are medically incapacitated.

Organ Donation

In addition to obvious medical decisions such as whether or not you want to remain on life support, health care directives can also be used to specify your wishes for organ donation. If you wish to donate your bodily organs and/or tissue, be sure to include this in your directive.

Specifying a Power of Attorney

In a standard health care directive, you are unable to specify a power of attorney. However, it’s not uncommon for people to create both medical powers of attorney and health care directives, allowing them to benefit from both of these documents. Why is this helpful? Well, you may want to specify someone as your “power of attorney” for medical decisions, meaning this individual can make medical decisions on your behalf.

Creating Your Health Care Directive

You have one of two different options available when creating a health care directive: you can either create it yourself using a pre-made template (available online), or you can hire a lawyer to draft it for you. Assuming you have the funds and resources, it’s recommended that you choose the latter option. Although it’s not overly technical or complicated, there’s still a great deal of room for error when creating a health care directive. Allowing a professional lawyer to create your health care directive will reduce the risk of errors from occurring.

Get it Notarized

Failure to have your health care notarized could make it void. Keep in mind, however, that each state has its own laws regarding the way in which health care directives should be executed. In Iowa, for instance, a health care directive must have either two witnesses or a notary. Furthermore, health care directives are not valid if created when pregnant. A power of attorney health care also requires two witnesses or a notary in Iowa.

To determine whether or not your state requires the notarization of health care directives, check out When in doubt, though, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution by having your health care directive notarized. Having it notarized, even if your state doesn’t require it, certainly won’t hurt. On the contrary, it acts as another barrier of protection against fraud.

Inform the Necessary Parties

While there’s no rule stating that you must notify friends and family after creating a medical directive, doing so is always a smart idea. The State of California’s Office of the Attorney General recommends notifying friends, family, your physician, and the health care institution that is providing your care. Doing so will ensure the wishes specified in your health care directive are carried out the way YOU want them to be.

It’s also a good idea to make a copy of your health care directive, placing it in a safe and secure area. These are just a few tips to keep in mind when creating your health care directive. Above all else, though, take your time and don’t rush through this document. If you need help, contact a lawyer who specializes in the field of medical directives and estate planning for professional advice.

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