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National Healthcare Decisions Day: How an Advance Directive Can Bring You Peace of Mind, No Matter Your Age

April 16 is the annual event National Healthcare Decisions Day. Find out how making future healthcare decisions can benefit you and your family.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Navigating the intricacies of healthcare can be challenging at any stage of life, but when life's unexpected twists occur, a clear directive can be as critical to your well-being as the treatments themselves.

April 16th marks National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), which shines a spotlight on a topic that often goes unaddressed—how we want to be treated and cared for in the face of life-limiting illness or injury.

Observed annually, NHDD is an initiative that was put in place with the goal of inspiring, educating, and empowering patients and their families about the importance of advance care planning. In observance of NHDD, Trust & Will will explore advance directives, why they’re important, how to create one, and last but not least, how they offer peace of mind to individuals of all ages.

What is an Advance Directive?

An Advance Directive is a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, often including a Living Will and/or a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (Health Care Proxy). It is designed to take effect when a person is no longer able to make or communicate decisions about their care.

Living Will: A written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent.

Healthcare Proxy: A document naming a person's "healthcare agent" or "attorney-in-fact" to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they are incapacitated.

The Importance of Having an Advance Directive

The importance of having an Advance Directive cannot be overstated. It ensures that your voice is heard, even when you are unable to speak for yourself. Here are the key reasons why this document is invaluable, no matter your age:

  • Autonomy: An Advance Directive reflects an individual’s autonomy and protects their right to make decisions about their treatment, even when they are incapacitated.

  • Relief for Family: It provides clarity and can prevent disagreements among family members at critical times.

  • Ensuring Your Wishes are Followed: It gives reassurance that you will receive the kind of care you want and can prevent unwanted or unneeded treatment.

  • Emergency Preparedness: An Advance Directive helps medical personnel respond quickly and appropriately in emergencies when time is of the essence.

National Healthcare Decisions Day Campaign

National Healthcare Decisions Day was founded in 2008 by attorney Nathan Kottkamp in an effort to inform the public about Advance Directives.

It is celebrated annually on April 16 to "educate and empower the public and healthcare providers to take part in important advance care planning," according to National Day Calendar. Social media users can use #HealthcareDecisionsDay to help bring awareness to the topic.

Individuals are encouraged to think about their healthcare preferences and talk about them with key players, such as their healthcare providers and their loved ones. Medical decisions can be difficult to discuss, and at times controversial. The Conversation Project provides valuable resources to help, including a Conversation Starter Guide and workbook. Various organizations and healthcare providers will also participate by providing resources, events, workshops, and other methods of encouraging and supporting individuals in creating their own Advance Directives.

The campaign's primary goal is to increase the number of Americans who have completed an advance directive, which aligns with the overall mission of enhancing healthcare quality by promoting shared decision-making.

How to Participate in National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16

According to National Day Calendar, here are some ways to observe National Healthcare Decisions Day:

  • Spend time planning out your important healthcare decisions.

  • Identify documents to be completed now, such as your Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney, which can be done through Trust & Will's online platform and stored securely.

  • Schedule a time and date to discuss your medical decisions with your loved ones.

  • Inform key individuals where to locate your documents in case you have a medical event.

  • Encourage your loved ones to also get their Advance Directives in place.

  • If you're posting on social media, help spread the word by using #HealthcareDecisionsDay.

How to Create an Advance Directive

Creating an Advance Directive is a relatively straightforward process, but it involves careful consideration and some introspective decision-making. Here's a guide to getting started:

Step 1: Understand Advance Directive Requirements

Laws regarding Advance Directives vary by state, so it’s essential to understand your state’s regulations. Familiarize yourself with the terminology and requirements specific to your location to ensure the document’s validity.

Step 2: Choose Your Healthcare Representative

Selecting a trusted individual to act as your healthcare proxy is a critical decision. This person should be someone who understands your values and is willing to advocate for your medical preferences.

Step 3: State Your Wishes Clearly

Whether through a Living Will or direct communication with your healthcare proxy, it's important to articulate your medical treatment desires and preferences in clear, unambiguous language.

Step 4: Communicate Your Directives

Keep a copy of your Advance Directive accessible and provide another to your healthcare proxy. Consider sharing it with your primary care physician and any other providers involved in your care.

Addressing Common Misconceptions

Advance directives can be complex, and there are numerous myths that can lead to misunderstandings and apprehension. It’s important to address these misconceptions to encourage more people in creating their advance care plans.

  • It's not just for the elderly: Individuals of any age can be at risk of a health event that renders them unable to make care decisions. The sooner an advance directive is in place, the better.

  • You can change it any time: Preferences change as life circumstances evolve. Be reassured that you can update or change your advance directive as often as you wish, provided you are mentally competent.

  • It can be incredibly empowering: An advance directive isn't a sign of defeat but rather an act of empowerment, considering a range of treatment scenarios.

How to Discuss Your Wishes with Loved Ones

Talking about mortality and healthcare preferences can be difficult. Here are some strategies to initiate and manage these critical discussions:

Tip 1: Choose the Right Environment

Find a quiet, comfortable place to talk where everyone feels at ease and the conversation won’t be rushed.

Tip 2: Start the Conversation Early

Get the conversation going when there's no immediate crisis. It's easier to discuss hypothetical situations than real-life emergencies.

Tip 3: Be Direct and Honest

Express your thoughts openly and honestly. While emotions might run high, clear communication ensures that everyone understands your intentions.

Tip 4: Revisit the Topic Periodically

Feelings and situations change over time, and so might your healthcare preferences. Plan to revisit and discuss your advance care plan periodically.

We have our guide on how to have the difficult conversation about death with your loved ones. While it's not the same topic, there are many tips that are applicable.

Participate in National Healthcare Decisions Day this year by putting your Advance Directive in Place

An Advance Directive is more than a piece of paper—it’s a proactive decision about your future health and well-being. On this National Healthcare Decisions Day, the most important action you can take is to start the conversation—be it with yourself, your loved ones, or your healthcare provider.

Remember, your Directive is your voice in moments when you may not have one in the future. Whether it be a temporary incapacitation or a long-term condition, having your documents in place will ensure that your loved ones and healthcare providers will know what type of healthcare decisions you desire.

If you haven't done so already, take the time to consider your healthcare decisions. Use Trust & Will as your resource to put your healthcare documents in place, and share this resource with your friends and family. Share your experiences and knowledge to increase awareness and participation in National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative! 

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.