In a recent poll at Cheapskatemonthly.com I asked readers a question: "Have you signed a 'health directive' expressing your wishes regarding heroic measures you do or do not want to be given to you?" Of more than 1,000 respondents, merely 22 percent answered "yes." The rest answered from flat out "no" or "I don't even know what a health directive is."
The case of Terri Schiavo points to how difficult end-of-life decisions can be for family members. Now, while the topic is still fresh in your mind, is the time to make sure your wishes are written in a legal format to be executed properly. It's not difficult and won't cost a dime.
At the very least you need to have a "health-care proxy," also called a durable power of attorney for health care. This is a form designating an individual who will have legal authority to make medical decisions for you if you're incapacitated. It is also the place where you tell your agent exactly what you do or do not want, should that be necessary.
First, pick a person who's going to have some backbone, who will stand up for you and have only your wishes in mind when your family is dealing with such an emotionally difficult time.
Next, go to www.CaringInfo.org for free advance care directive documents and detailed instructions for how to complete them. Click on "Advance Care Planning." Click on ""How to Download Your State's Advance Directives." This will take you to a screen where you enter your name and e-mail address, then "submit." Be sure to select your state. This is very important as the laws vary from one state to the next. You can also call (800) 658-8898 and request the form for your state be mailed to you.
Expect a multi-page, detailed form together with specific explanations for what a health care directive is and your rights to have your wishes known and followed. You also have rights to privacy.
Once completed you need to carry through so that your directive will stand up in a court of law. Laws vary from one state to the next, but typically you must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom is not related by blood, marriage or adoption.
Keep the original signed document in a secure, but accessible place. Do not put it in a safe deposit or security box that would keep others from finding it. Give photocopies of the signed original to the person you have selected to make your life decisions if you are unable, your doctors, family, close friends, clergy and anyone else you might think will be involved in your health care.