A typical healthcare visit involves you telling your doctor the medical problems you are experiencing and discussing with him or her the pros and cons of various treatment options. You then decide which option you would like to pursue, and the treatment begins. While this pattern may work most of the time, it will not work if a medical condition renders you unable to understand your healthcare options or communicate your wishes.

Advance directives are legal documents that address your wishes for medical treatment  when you cannot express your wishes for yourself. Indiana recognizes several different types of advance directives, but two of the most commonly used documents are powers of attorney and living wills.

What some advance directives can do

A power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted family member or friend, called an attorney in fact, to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. A living will records your wishes for or against certain treatments in specific situations. The two documents work well together because you may not be able to account for every medical possibility in a living will, but your attorney in fact can be available to make decisions in those situations.

Who decides when there is no advance directive?

While it is possible that you may never be in a situation that prevents you from making your own medical decisions, it is often prudent to plan for the unexpected. If you are incapacitated and do not have an advance directive, Indiana law will choose one of your relatives to make decisions for you. This choice is based on an established list prioritizing certain relationship over others.

While this may sound easier for you, this process may cause a delay in important decision making as the designated person is determined and contacted. Also, because more than one person may share equal priority, there is a risk that they may disagree on the appropriate treatment, which could also delay its implementation.

Although advance directives are not required, it can be advantageous to prepare for unexpected circumstances, especially if you feel strongly about certain medical procedures. After all, there is no way to know what the future holds.