Healthcare Directives

What Is a Health Care Directive?

A health care directive is a written document that informs others of your health care wishes. It allows you to name a person (or “agent”) to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Under Minnesota law, anyone 18 or older can make a health care directive.

Why Might I Need a Health Care Directive?

A health care directive is useful if you become unable to adequately communicate your health care wishes. The directive guides your physician, family and friends regarding your care at a time when you are not able to provide that information. While you do not have to create a health care directive (you will still receive medical care without one), a directive will help you get exactly the care you would like, particularly near the end of your life when your interests may not be the same as those who survive you.

How Do I Prepare a Health Care Directive?

There are forms that you can use to draft a health care directive. The “Sample Forms” section includes a sample Health Care Directive Form for your use. You can also create your own directive or have an attorney prepare one for you, but your directive must:

  • Be in writing and dated;
  • Contain your name;
  • Be signed by you (or someone you authorize to sign for you) when you can still understand and communicate your health care wishes;
  • Have your signature verified by a notary public or two witnesses; and
  • Include the appointment of an agent to make health care decisions for you and/or instructions about the health care choices you wish to make.

Before preparing your directive, you may wish to speak with your physician or other health care provider.

What Should I Include in My Health Care Directive?

Your health care directive may contain many health-related items, including:

  • The name of the person you designate as your agent to make health care decisions for you. You can name alternate agents in case the first agent is unavailable or even assign joint agents;
  • Directions to joint agents, if assigned, regarding the process or standards by which they are to reach a health care decision;
  • Your goals, values, and preferences about health care;
  • The types of medical treatment you want or do not want, including instructions about artificial nutrition and hydration;
  • How you want your agent(s) to make decisions;
  • Where you want to receive care;
  • Your preferences regarding mental health treatments, including those that are intrusive, use electroshock therapy, or require neuroleptic medications;
  • Instructions if you are pregnant;
  • Your desire to donate organs, tissues, or other body parts; and
  • Your funeral arrangements.

You may be as specific or general as you wish in your health care directive.

What Are the Limits on My Health Care Directive?

Your health care directive is limited as follows:

  • Your agent must be at least 18 years of age;
  • Your agent cannot be your health care provider, unless the health care provider is a family member or you give reasons why your agent is your health care provider; and
  • You cannot request assisted suicide.

Your health care provider must follow your health care directive or your agent’s instructions. If your provider cannot or will not follow your agent’s directions about life-sustaining treatment, your provider must promptly transfer you to a health care provider who has the capability or is willing to follow your directives.

How Do I Change My Health Care Directive?

Your health care directive lasts until you change or cancel it. If you wish to cancel it, you may do one of the following:

  • Write a statement saying you want to cancel it;
  • Destroy it;
  • Tell at least two people that you wish to cancel it; and/or
  • Write a new health care directive.

Bear in mind that Minnesota law allows you to consolidate your living will, durable power of attorney and health care directive into one form for all your health care instructions.

The Minnesota Board on Aging has also prepared a useful form for citizens. You may obtain that health care directive form by calling (800) 333-2433.

When Does My Health Care Directive Take Effect?

Your health care directive becomes effective when it meets all the requirements described above and your health care provider determines that you can no longer make health care decisions for yourself.

You may also provide for in your health care directive certain conditions that must exist for it to become effective.