No one wants to think about the possibility of not being able to care for themselves. However, there may come a time when, due to injuries, illnesses, or simply the effects of age and time, people become unable to make decisions or specify their wishes to their health care providers and loved ones. Therefore, it is important for people in Indiana and elsewhere to understand what advance directives are and how they can be used to their benefit.

An advance directive is a legal document that is used to specify people’s preferences regarding their medical treatment and care to their health care providers and family members. Often comprised of two main elements, a durable power of attorney and a living will, advance directives only take effect if people become incapacitated and cannot speak for themselves.

According to the National Institute on Aging, a durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows people to name health care proxies. As their personal representatives, health care proxies are charged with making decisions on people’s behalf when they cannot do so themselves. It is important for those people they name as their health care proxies to be familiar with their preferences, values and beliefs.

Through a living will, people can dictate how they prefer their care to be handled in the event they are rendered permanently unconscious or are dying and cannot make their own decisions. In a living will, they can indicate the types of treatments, including the use of defibrillators, ventilators, and artificial nutrition and hydration, they would and would not want.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, although they are encouraged, advance directives are not required in the state. If they do not have such documents in place, state law specifies that their medical providers must try to contact a personal representative via the state’s priority list to make decisions on their behalf. The priority list includes judicially appointed guardians or court-appointed representatives, spouses, adult children, parents, adult siblings, grandparents, adult grandchildren or other adult relatives.