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Planning Ahead with Advance Directives

Americans spend a great deal of time planning important events throughout our lives. We plan for births, weddings, graduations, and vacations, which are all important events. However, planning for changes in health frequently find many of us taking the "stick our head in the sand" approach.

Families can rarely weigh potential outcomes and make decisions from the same perspective in the time of crisis and stress. We all judge quite differently what quality of life means. The time to discuss wishes for healthcare is when it can be discussed from a broader view. This will be easier when you are planning toward a future event not when that event is thrust upon you and consensus may prove difficult.

The two documents that currently are available and implemented in Iowa are the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions or the Medical Power of Attorney and the Declaration Relating to Life Sustaining Procedures or the Living Will. The Medical Power of Attorney assigns the responsibility to another to make healthcare choices for us when we can not. The Living Will states our wishes specifically for healthcare.

The Iowa Bar Association and National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization feel that the completion of these documents is so important that they have made the forms available at no cost and other useful information on the web at and the The documents do not require the services of an attorney to complete, however both documents must be either witnessed by two people or notarized to become effective. Of the two witnesses, only one can be a relative and neither can be a healthcare provider currently providing services or an employee of that healthcare provider. Forms are also available by contacting Grinnell Regional Hospice at 641-236-2418.

After completion, you will need to provide copies of these documents to your family, your physician or other healthcare providers, your attorney, and/or clergy, if appropriate. A discussion of your wishes is certainly appropriate with those who received the documents to either clarify or verify your wishes. A periodic review of the documents to determine that they still meet your needs would be appropriate. These documents may be completed by anyone over 18 years of age.