You have probably heard of an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD), perhaps at a doctor’s office, hospital, or from a family member who has recently completed one. Utah is one of many states that has established a standard form-based AHCD. However, if you are like many Utahns, you may think that an AHCD is “not for you.” Below are three critically important reasons to have a properly executed AHCD, regardless of your age, health, family status, or financial situation.

First, it allows you to name a person of your choice as your Health Care Agent.  Should you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself, whether temporarily or permanently, your designated Agent can do so on your behalf. Because of the sensitive and often highly emotional nature of these kinds of decisions, careful thought should go into the selection of an Agent. It is best to appoint someone in whom you have a strong degree of trust and confidence. Other qualities to look for include strong communication skills, the ability to stay calm in stressful situations, and familiarity with yourself and your family. Remember that no one can require you to appoint an Agent, or force you to choose a particular person as your Agent.

Second, an AHCD allows you to define exactly the scope of your Agent’s authority on a number of issues. This includes such things as access to medical records, consent to treat or to admit, select providers, and authorize organ donation or participation in medical research. You are free to limit or expand this authority in any way you see fit. Again, it is only during periods of incapacity that your Agent’s authority is valid. This means that you remain in total control of your health care decisions at all other times, even with an Agent named.

Third, filling out an AHCD is the most effective means of making your wishes known in regard to life-sustaining care – e.g., nutrition, antibiotics, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the like. Specifically, you may choose to leave such decisions to your Agent or to leave them to your treating physicians. You may direct that your health care providers prolong life as long as possible, or that they refrain from doing so. By having your completed AHCD on file with your doctors, you can be assured that your wishes will be honored while also relieving others of the burden of trying to guess what you might want in a given situation.

Advance Health Care Directives are free, although you may have to pay a third party such as a lawyer, financial planner, or other professional if you would like help completing the form. To be valid, AHCDs must be witnessed by two unrelated adults who are not potential beneficiaries of your estate. Take the time to plan ahead and remove unnecessary burdens from your loved ones by completing a Directive.