When it comes to health care, everybody deserves to have their preferences honored. However, there may be times when we – or those we love – can’t express those preferences. This is when an advance care directive becomes important.

Advance directives are a way for someone to make sure that they have a say in their own care, even when they physically can’t. They can be especially useful for people with aging parents or who are dealing with a potentially terminal medical condition. We’ll explain what advance care directives are, how they can benefit an individual and their loved ones, and how to talk about directives with a loved one who’s hesitant to make their own.

What advance directives are

An advance directive, also known as an advance care plan or health care directive, is a legal document that helps ensure that you’re cared for the way you want in situations where you can’t personally explain your wishes to your care team. You’re able to do this by choosing someone you trust to be your health care agent (sometimes called a medical power of attorney or a power of attorney for health care) and writing down your wishes related to your care (sometimes called a living will).

In Minnesota, we typically combine the living will and the medical power of attorney into a single document called a health care directive.

We have Minnesota health care directive forms available on our website to help you get started.

Understanding the benefits of an advance directive

The main benefit of having an advance health care directive is peace of mind. It’s like a form of insurance – it may not be necessary any time soon, but it’s good to have just in case. Plus, advance care planning isn’t just for end-of-life care. Sometimes treatable injuries or health conditions can temporarily leave you unable to communicate. If a decision needs to be made during that time, it can be very helpful to have a designated health care agent or examples of your care preferences for your care team to reference.

The other big benefit of making an advance directive is that it simplifies things for your loved ones. Health care directives are made for situations that are often very emotionally charged. Without a set plan or idea of what you would want, your loved ones may have to decide what to do, which could add more tension to an already stressful situation. Not only does having an advance directive in place help avoid that, but the conversations involved in making the directive may allow you and your loved ones to start to process some of the emotions that these situations can bring up.

Making an advance care directive may seem like a logical choice. But there are plenty of reasons why someone might avoid it. If you have an aging parent or loved one who is hesitant to make a directive, it could be because they think it’s unnecessary, they may not want to think about the subject matter, or they don’t feel prepared to make those decisions. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things you can do that may help them become more open to making a directive.

Lead by example

It’s much easier to follow through on something when someone close to us has already done it. And the truth is, anyone over the age of 18 can benefit from having a health care directive. If you can start the conversation with your parent or loved one by explaining or even showing them a copy of your own directive, that can go a long way in making directives seem as normal as they really are. Plus, if you’ve already gone through the process of making a directive, your loved one can turn to you for help when they’re making theirs.

Change the narrative

An advance health care directive is based on a very positive idea, but it can be overshadowed by the situations that require it. If this seems to be an obstacle for your loved one, it’s important to shift the focus back toward the positives. There are the benefits described above, but you can also emphasize that the directive is about your loved one’s preferences. It’s not about signing away their control over their health, it’s about ensuring that they can maintain control, even indirectly. It’s about honoring both them and their wishes.

Give it time

Whether your loved one needs convincing or they’re ready to start planning, it’s going to take time and multiple conversations to get to a complete directive. Bring up the subject when it’s appropriate but try not to pressure them or rush their thoughts. It may help to aim for smaller goals that build toward the full picture – such as getting your loved one to talk to their doctor or other family members about it, or to name a health care agent.

Ready to make an advance care directive? We can help

No matter where you or your loved one are in life, an advance care directive is an important health care tool. But making one does require some serious conversations and thought, as well as time and energy. At the page linked below, you can find answers to common questions, short and long-form templates, and other resources that can make the process easier.