Talking about your health-care wishes, if you should become incapacitated or seriously ill, is difficult, according to Debra Pankow, North Dakota State University Extension Service family economics specialist.

The Patient Self-Determination Act is a federal law that requires health-care providers to educate their patients and the community about issues related to advance directives for health care. However, the law does not require people to execute either a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care.

A living will is a document that permits you to decide whether you want life-prolonging treatment or nutrition and hydration (artificial food and water) started or continued after you have a terminal condition.

To complete a living will:

  • Use the appropriate form.
  • Make certain you sign your living will and have it properly verified.
  • Give a copy to your doctor and other health-care providers. You also may want to give a copy to others, such as a close family member or attorney.

“A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that allows you to appoint someone (known as your agent) to make medical decisions for you if you lack the capacity to make your own,” Ms. Pankow says. “Your health-care provider, a non-relative who works for your health-care provider, a long-term-care services provider or a non-relative employed by a long-term services provider is not allowed to serve as your agent.”

To complete a durable power of attorney for health care:

  • Use the appropriate form.
  • Carefully select the person you want to act as your agent and/or alternate agent.
  • Tell your agent what kinds of health-care decisions you want your agent to make on your behalf. Be sure to check to see what documentation or additional options might be available in your state.