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Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions

Preparing the Forms Must my advance directives be witnessed?

Yes, every state has some type of witnessing requirement. Most require two adult witnesses; some also require a notary. Some states give you the option of having two witnesses or a notary alone as a witness. The purpose of witnessing is to confirm that you really are the person who signed the document, you were not forced to sign it, and you appeared to understand what you were doing. The witnesses do not need to know the content of the document.

Read the instructions and the documents carefully to ensure that the witnessing is done properly.

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Who can be a witness?

All states require that your witnesses be adults. Beyond that, the requirements vary from state to state.

Generally, a person you appoint as your agent or alternate agent cannot be a witness. In some states your witnesses cannot be any relatives by blood or marriage, or anyone who would benefit from your estate. Some states prohibit your doctor and employees of a healthcare institution in which you are a patient from acting as witnesses. Again, read the instructions carefully to see who can and cannot be a witness.

What should I do with my completed advance directives?

Make several photocopies of the completed documents. Keep the original documents in a safe but easily accessible place, and tell others where you put them; you can note on the photocopies the location where the originals are kept. DO NOT KEEP YOUR ADVANCE DIRECTIVES IN A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX. Other people may need access to them.

Give photocopies to your agent and alternate agent. Be sure your doctors have copies of your advance directives and give copies to everyone who might be involved with your healthcare, such as your family, clergy, or friends. Your local hospital might also be willing to file your advance directives in case you are admitted in the future.

How can I be sure my advance directives will be honored?

Simply completing advance directives will not ensure that your wishes will be honored. These documents are tools to help the decision making process. Their effectiveness depends largely on the way you prepare your loved ones and other caregivers for their use.

To best protect your treatment wishes, you should do two things:

  1. Take the time to think your feelings through and state them fully, so that your advance directives truly reflect your treatment wishes.
  2. Talk openly about your wishes with your family, your friends and your doctor.

Don't assume that others will know what you would want. Research shows that families' and physicians' who guess about a patient's preferences often are mistaken. Talking with the people who might have to act on your behalf ensures that they understand your wishes, gives them a chance to ask questions, and lets you determine whether they will follow your wishes even if your choices differ from theirs.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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