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Make your wishes known in five steps

A health care directive documents your medical choices in case you're unable to do so. But where do you start? How do you make a record of your health care wishes and ensure that they will be followed? How do you make this document valid?

Creating a health care directive is easy and involves just a handful of simple steps.

Step 1. Don't wait until you're sick or injured. Talk with your provider and understand your health. That way, you know what to address in your health care directive. All adults, regardless of age or health status, should have a health care directive.

Step 2. Identify your health care agents, people in your life who are willing and able to honor your wishes and respect your decisions. Choose a primary and a secondary agent. Be sure to talk to them before you include them in your health care directive so they understand your goals and values.

Step 3. Fill out your health care directive form. Your health care directive can be as simple or as detailed as you want. Maybe your wish is to lengthen your life or to stop treatment depending on the circumstances. You can choose to have intense pain relief even when it could accelerate death. The document can include whether or not you'd like to donate your organs or what nursing home you'd like to go to for care. 

The completed health care directive needs to be validated. In Minnesota, you can have it notarized or signed in the presence of two witnesses other than your health care agents. In Wisconsin, you need to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses.

Step 4. Give copies of your validated health care directive to your agents, your provider or anyone else who is involved in your health care. Keep the original in a place where others can find it or share the link for the online document with your agents and others you wish. Give your providers a copy of the online document so it can be scanned into your medical record.  If you go to the hospital or a nursing home, bring a copy with you.

If you have a do not resuscitate wish, please see your provider for a signed form called 'Providers Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment' (POLST). Once signed, this form should be scanned into your electronic medical record along with your health care directive, and a copy given to your agent. Keep these bright yellow forms on your refrigerator at home as paramedics need to see this signed order for them to not perform CPR. 

Step 5. Review your health care directive at least once every five years. Make updates if there are changes in your health or if your agent is no longer able to continue in that role. Once you validate and distribute your new health care directive, the old one is no longer valid.


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