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Will Your Family Have to Guess Your Health Care Wishes?

It’s not the most pleasant issue to think about but necessary just the same. Imagine you are in an accident or a sudden illness leaves you unable to speak for yourself.Your loved one or caregiver may be faced with a difficult decision about your well-being and whether to continue life-saving measures. How will that person know what to do?

Planning for major injuries or sudden illness may feel awkward, but timely conversations with family members can ensure your care preferences are honored and that your caregivers don’t have to guess what you might want.

According to the Conversation Project, more than 90 percent of people think it’s important to have conversations about end-of-life care with their loved ones,yet less than 30 percent have done so. That’s a big discrepancy. It’s important to take three steps: discuss, decide and document.

“It’s simpler than you think to get started,” said Dr. Stephanie Peterson, a senior medical director at Optum. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can change it at any time.” Here are a few tips from Peterson:

1) Choose an advocate.

This should be someone who knows you well, is calm in a crisis, understands your preferences, is not afraid to ask questions of care providers and will advocate on your behalf. An advocate can be a close relative or friend, but should be someone who knows you well and someone you trust to follow your wishes.

2) Talk with your advocate and doctor about your future care preferences.

Let your advocate and doctors know what’s most important to you in life. What are the activities and abilities that make life most worth living for you? What are the things that give you comfort when you’re sick? When, if ever, should your advocate decide that it’s time to “let go?” And, if applicable, who else should they include in that decision?

3) Write it down.

Formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. You can find helpful worksheets and resources online.

4) Give copies of your plan to your advocate, family members and doctors.

Make sure they are aware of your plan, and take some time to go over the document with them. Update and review the plan whenever your situation or preferences change, and have the document placed in your medical records.

“I have seen firsthand the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience when they know their loved one’s wishes have been fulfilled,”Peterson said. Advance care planning improves quality of life and reduces anxiety. “Don’t make people guess what you want. Make your future care preferences known.” For more information, visit the website of National Healthcare Decisions Day (


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