Health care advocates say that everyone should have one. Estate planners agree, and so does the state of Georgia’s Division of Aging Services. 
 
But a study found 70% of Americans do not have a health care directive. It is a vital tool missing from the estate planning of far too many people. 
 
Definition of a health care directive 
 
A health care directive, known as an “advance health care directive” in Georgia, is a legal document. It guides future health care decisions if disease or injury incapacitates you. 
 
The advantage? You control your quality of life instead of leaving it in the hands of doctors or relatives. You make decisions about withholding care, refusing artificial nutrition and other medical treatments. This can provide both you and your family with peace of mind at a difficult time. 
 
The directives were first introduced by California in 1976. Every state adopted the concept by 1992. In Georgia, the directive took the place of living wills and durable power of attorney. 
 
Choosing your health care agent 
 
An important step in establishing a health care directive is selecting an agent. The person will make health care decisions on your behalf if you become impaired. 
 
Trust is important, but it is also only one quality that you need in your agent. The person must have strength of character. She or he must make difficult decisions about your health care. Discuss possible end-of-life scenarios with your agent. The more he or she understands your thinking, the better the person can represent you.  
 
The agent’s role continues after your death. She or he handles your funeral – who will speak, the music, flower arrangements and other details. Your agent also carries out your instructions about body or organ donations. 
 
Review your directive from time to time. Your personal circumstances can change, and so can the law. Understand all your options to protect your dignity.