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Advance Care Planning: A gift for your loved ones…

Many decisions need to be made as we age, and while this can seem daunting, planning ahead can bring not only you peace of mind but also your family and friends.


Advanced care planning is deciding what types of care and treatment you’d like to receive at the end of your life—these decisions, when unplanned, can be painful and traumatic. Our loved ones are often asked to make life-altering decisions for us. When individuals share their end-of-life care wishes with their loved ones, this helps to ease the burden of this decision.

Studies show that most people want to die peacefully in their homes, but that’s not what typically happens. With the advancement of modern healthcare technology, patients who suffer from life-threatening illnesses receive advanced treatments. When these treatments stop working, families are left with literal life-or-death decisions.

In addition, without it, your state may decide which loved one or family member(s) will make the decisions for you. In some cases, it may be multiple people who must agree together on the decision.

Simply put, deciding who will make end-of-life decisions for you and talking with them before you face a serious illness or become unconscious is like giving them a gift for the future.

What advanced care planning is: 

1. Living will: A legal document that explains your preference for medical care or treatments if you were faced with a life-threatening illness and unable to make decisions for yourself. These could include treatments such as:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Breathing machines (Ventilators)
  • Feeding tubes or Intravenous (IV) hydration

2. Medical or healthcare power of attorney: A legal document that explains who you would want to make medical decisions for you and goes into effect when you are seriously ill and unable to make decisions for yourself.

In most states, these documents are optional to be completed by a lawyer. For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, it only takes two other witnesses to make the document a legal document. It’s that simple. You can learn more about advanced care planning by visiting the National Institute of Health (NIH) website here. 

What it is not:

Often, people confuse medical (healthcare) power of attorney with durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney is a document that says who can make financial decisions about you and your belongings. This option requires a lawyer to complete.


Who should do it: 

  • Everyone 18 years and older should have a plan
  • Anyone who has a chronic illness
  • Someone who receives a new or change in a diagnosis
  • Anyone living in (or making a move to) a senior loving community like Diakon Senior Living

How can I complete one:

Free or low-cost resources available

  1. Five Wishes is a national advanced care planning organization that provides education and resources in easy-to-understand language. You can complete both the living will and power of attorney in one document. It can be obtained online or mailed to you at this link https://www.fivewishes.org/.
  2. Ask your primary care healthcare provider. Primary care providers may have free documents available and can help you make decisions that are right for you based on your health conditions. Free POA/living will forms are available to complete online. https://eforms.com/power-of-attorney/pa/
  3. Hire a lawyer; many lawyers assist with completing both the durable and health care power of attorney documents in one.

A living will may not always be the only document to consider when preparing for end-of-life care decisions. In Pennsylvania, a POLST form (Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatments) is used to direct healthcare personnel in emergency situations for end-of-life care. It is completed when someone is diagnosed with an advanced chronic illness or with a terminal condition.

How is this different from a living will? The POLST document is a physician’s order; the living will is a legal document. A living will is meant to help guide your loved ones to make decisions on your behalf. A POLST includes physicians’ orders that tell healthcare personnel what orders to follow. It’s important that your primary care doctor, and anytime you enter a hospital or long-term care facility, has a copy of the POLST form to make your wishes known and followed. The POLST form can be obtained here.

Diakon Senior Living campuses provide seniors with the comfort of knowing their health needs will be met as they age, whatever the level of care required. Thinking about support for yourself or a loved one? Learn more by clicking here today!

Author: Hannah Gearhart, RN


Five Wishes: https://www.fivewishes.org/

National Institute of Health (NIH): Advance Care Planning: Advance Directives for Health Care

National Institute of Health (NIH): Where Americans Die — Is There Really “No Place Like Home”?

PA Department of Health: Introduction to the POLST form  

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