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Advance directives and health care decisions

Estate planning allows individuals to make end-of-life decisions ahead of time by creating wills and advanced directives. While a will generally includes information on funeral arrangements, inheritances and guardianship of minor children, an advance directive focuses on health care. By creating an advance directive, Pennsylvania residents may make their health care preferences known in writing. If an injury or illness leads to incapacitation, medical personnel and family members may follow the instructions in the advance directive to approve or decline certain treatments.

The AARP states that there are typically two kinds of advance directives: a living will and a health care power of attorney. Each one includes different information, so the AARP recommends that individuals create both rather than just relying on a single form. In general, a living will allows a person to state his or her decisions about end-of-life procedures and other medical treatments. For example, an individual may state that he or she accepts antibiotics or dialysis but does not want to use a mechanical ventilator.

A health care power of attorney gives a trusted person the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the principal. These decisions may relate to life-sustaining treatments, such as artificial hydration and nutrition. However, the named health care agent may also authorize or decline other medical procedures. Essentially, the agent serves as the principal's advocate with medical personnel when circumstances do not allow the principal to speak on his or her own behalf.

Pennsylvania state law does not require individuals to use specific forms to create a living will or health care power of attorney. However, Penn Medicine provides advice and resources to make it as easy as possible for local residents to create advance directives. Penn Medicine recommends that individuals provide as much information as possible in a living will for issues such as organ donation, CPR and surgery. A living will may also cover religious or spiritual values relating to end-of-life care.

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