Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

Flowers, candy, and cards are nice gifts to show someone we care, but they’re gone within a week. This Valentine’s Day, consider doing something that will give lasting peace-of-mind to a loved one: Complete the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care.

Available online, the Advance Directive for Health Care combines the living will and durable power-of-attorney for health care into one legal document that is written in plain-language. It is designed to allow individuals to make their healthcare wishes clear and to designate a trusted person – their health care agent – to make healthcare decisions for them in the event of incapacitation.

It’s one of those things that we don’t like to think about, but life can throw us disruptive health challenges in the forms of injury, illness, and aging. Any of these can make it impossible – temporarily or permanently – for us to care for ourselves independently and make or communicate our health management wishes. In their efforts to care for us, our loved ones will be dealing with a lot of stress and decisions. The Advance Directive for Health Care alleviates some of that stress by proactively informing physicians of the care and end-of-life decisions that we have made for ourselves and identifying the person whom we have authorized to communicate with physicians and take healthcare actions on our behalf, such as authorizing admission or discharge from a healthcare facility and contracting for healthcare services.

There are four actionable parts within the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care. Part One is where we name the person we’ve chosen to appoint as our health care agent. We can also name two back-up health care agents to act on our behalf if the primary agent cannot be contacted or is unable or unwilling to assume the responsibilities of health care agent. This part takes the place of the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and gives the acting health care agent the same access to our medical records that we have for ourselves.

Part Two takes the place of the Living Will and informs attending physicians about our treatment preferences under specified health conditions. Part Three allows us to nominate a guardian to care for us if a court decides that a guardian should be appointed.

The Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care becomes effective with your signature and the signature of two witnesses in Part Four. Part One is effective even if we chose not to complete parts two and three, but we retain the option to revoke the document at any time.

Although the full document contains a lot of information, definitions, and instructions, completing the fillable form only takes 15-20 minutes. View the full document on the Georgia Division of Aging Services website. The concise, fillable form is available at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences website with a search for “Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care Form”.

Make several copies of the completed, signed Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care form, and store the original in a secure place. Give one copy to your primary health care provider and the others to designated health care agents. Communicating our decisions now is a Valentine’s gift that removes later burdens and complications for our loved ones.

But don’t skip the candy and flowers.