Caregivers Corner: Who will speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself?

Regarding issues of your health, who would speak for you if you could not speak for yourself? Would the person you choose know what to do, what you do or do not want to be done on your behalf? What directions would they follow?

Many people assume only the sick and elderly need to plan ahead in creating their advance directives. But these documents are vital for every adult -- young or old, healthy or sick, disabled or able-bodied. Consider them your "if I get hit by a bus" documents because the reality is, you may not be pleased about who may be in control of your health care decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself and have not made your wishes officially known.

Advance care planning is a process, not an event. It is the process of planning for future medical care in the event you are unable to make your own decisions. The process of advance care planning helps an individual thoughtfully outline their personal values and goals regarding their wishes related to health and medical treatment. During this process, the individual also identifies the care they would or would not prefer in various situations.

It can certainly be uncomfortable to contemplate the types of care you might need or want if you're unable to speak for yourself. But it is even more uncomfortable to contemplate not having your wishes followed and leaving your loved ones with little or no guidance. Many family feuds occur at the bedside when loved ones are at odds with what you would have wanted instead of spending those last moments with you in a more tender and gentle way.

You can make these documents as restrictive as you would like, and they can be revised should your wishes change over time. One good way to think about what you would like if you were found in a very physically fragile position is to think of other situations you have witnessed others go through and decide if you would like similar care if you were in that position.

It is therefore critical to consider your wishes and then put those thoughts in writing. Thankfully, there are two documents ("Health Care Power of Attorney" and "Advance Directive for a Natural Death/Living Will") that make capturing these ideas much easier while ensuring they are legally valid in North Carolina. Both can be found on the North Carolina Secretary of State's website (sosnc.gov).

Health Care Power of Attorney



This document considers who would make health care decisions for you if you could not express your own wishes. Known as the Health Care Power of Attorney, it is distinct from durable power of attorney which addresses financial and business matters. This document allows you to appoint someone who can legally speak on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself. The document only comes into effect if you are unable to express your own wishes (i.e., if you're unconscious). Until such a circumstance arises, the health care power of attorney does not apply. You can also appoint a second-tier or even a third-tier person if your original health care power of attorney could not fulfill their duties.

Living Will


The second critical document is the Living Will, which describes what you do and do not want to be done and under what circumstances. Think of it as a guidebook to your wishes. It provides direction and guidance as well as informs the decisions of your health care power of attorney.

The good news is these documents are very easy to complete, are available at no charge, and do not typically require the assistance of an attorney. It is important, however, for you to share these documents with your family members, your health care decision-makers, and your medical providers. It is equally important that you have candid discussions with your family and loved ones regarding your wishes as well as who you want to make decisions on your behalf. If you would like to learn more about the importance of advance directives, watch this video:


If you are caregiving for a loved one and would like to get connected with others in our community who are walking the same path, join ABC11's Caregivers Corner moderated by Nicole Clagett. The group has 1900+ people supporting one another and sharing wonderful information and resources daily. More helpful tips about this topic can be found on ABC11's Caregivers Corner section.
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