Chronic illness and advance care planning

introspective man

Managing a chronic illness requires spending a lot of time and energy on day-to-day issues. Leaving time to consider future needs is not easy. But without an advance care plan, we risk being caught unprepared during crises, adding anxiety and stress to an already difficult time.

Each of us can help avoid this by considering questions such as: What treatment do you want in a medical emergency? Who will make health and other decisions for you when you are not able? Who will you trust to make sure your needs are met?

Having a plan for the future will ensure decisions are made according to your desires.

Get started by completing some basic documents to take control of your future on your own, or in a short meeting with a lawyer. With the following completed advance directives—including a living will and power of attorney—you allow a designated individual to help handle your affairs if the time comes that you are unable to make decisions for yourself.



A last will and testament dictates your wishes if you pass away. This includes who is nominated as a legal guardian for minor children, who inherits specific items and what happens to property not specifically mentioned. You can appoint an executor to supervise the distribution of property and payment of all debts and taxes.

Living wills are different from a last will. They dictate your wishes for medical care in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes or have impaired decision-making ability. This document normally lays out details regarding the specifics of end-of-life care—whether you want to have a feeding tube, be put on a respirator, etc.


signing a document

Power of attorney

A power of attorney gives someone you appoint the responsibility to step in if you aren’t present or able to make decisions for yourself. You can assign power of attorney for all aspects of your life, or only specific matters such as medical decisions. Most powers of attorney only give your appointed agent the ability to act on your behalf once you are incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions, but that can vary depending on how the paperwork is written.

When choosing an agent, make sure it is a person that you trust and will act with your best interests in mind.

Some things to consider when choosing an agent are:

Appointing an agent is a big decision. You should feel secure that he or she will make decisions that honor your personal values, wants and needs.


Advance directives

Advance directives are documents that make sure your end-of-life wishes are known and followed if you are incapacitated and unable to make your needs known.

They can include:


How to obtain these documents

To complete these documents you must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind.

You can complete power of attorney papers and wills on your own. However, you need to verify your state’s specific legal document requirements, such as how many witnesses must sign, or if it needs to be notarized.

Experts typically advise hiring a lawyer to assist with processing these documents to make sure your wishes are clearly laid out and the document is completed per the states guidelines.

A physician must complete DNR orders.

Many advance directives are searchable online, such as through CaringInfo.



What to do once I get these documents?

Once you get these documents you will want to provide a copy to the appointed power of attorney agent(s), your medical providers and financial advisors when applicable.

Distributing copies of your completed document is vital to ensuring your wishes are known and followed by the individuals you have appointed.


What happens without these documents?

If no will is in place when someone dies, state laws dictate who inherits what. In the event you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions, health care professionals will consult your family members according to your state’s decision-making laws. These laws identify individuals who may make decisions on a patient’s behalf when no advance directives are in place.

Ready to dive a little deeper? Check out this guide on advance care planning from the National Institutes of Health.

Members of Caring Voice Coalition’s Health Insurance Counseling team wrote this post. Look for more regular posts from them here on the CVC blog. Let us know what topic you’d like to hear more about at

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