If you become incapacitated and can't make responsible decisions, who will make them for you? The time to decide that and to set out the details to your satisfaction is before it becomes an issue.
The legal document that allows you to specify how you want your healthcare to go when you are no longer able to give directions yourself is called an Advanced Healthcare Directive. It should be carefully designed, witnessed and notarized so your caretakers don't have to deal with questions when the time comes.
For instance, a detailed directive includes your "living will," specific details as to whether you want medical personnel to go beyond ordinary comfort care if death appears imminent. Do you want such extreme measures as life support administered, or do you prefer to let nature take its course if your problems are terminal? Think about it carefully and then put your desires into detailed instructions.
Each state has guidelines concerning health care directives and you should be aware of them. For instance, some states disallow particular persons to witness such a document. California requires two witnesses to a signing. Neither of them can be your healthcare provider or agent or their employee, the operator of a community care or residential care facility or employee of same.
After your directive is completed to your satisfaction and the signatures have been authenticated by a notary, keep the original in a file, being certain that someone you trust is aware of where it is. A copy may be given to the person you named to be the caretaker and to your physician, hospital, HMO or others who might be called upon to execute your desires. Keep the original in a secure but accessible place. A safety deposit box is not advisable unless the person expected to fulfill the terms of the document has access.
Review the document every year or so and especially if you move, marry, change health care providers or make any other significant change to your life. You can revoke a directive at any time, but the current one will remain in effect unless you specifically revoke it. If you make significant changes or an entirely new directive, notify all the pertinent persons that you have done so.
Preparing a healthcare directive while you are aware and able to make the necessary decisions can greatly alleviate the stresses that normal attend a passing. You'll be doing yourself and your loved one a real favor. Normally a Healthcare Directive should be renewed every five years. Give copies to your doctors, family and friends.