You are surfing Steamer Lane, wipe out on a big wave and crack your head on a rock below the water. A buddy notices you have not surfaced and dives to find you, but by then, you have been under the water for minutes, your leash snagged and holding you down without air.

Hours later, your family around you, your sister, gives the doctor the nod, and the beeping stops. Your life is over.

Life’s short, live it while you can. That’s what you always said. The last thing you would have wanted is to be kept alive on a life support machine when the life had already drained out of you. Fortunately, your sister knew that. You told her once. More importantly, you gave her the power to make that decision for you.

Setting up an advanced health care directive is not only for older people. Everyone should do it as part of their estate planning. It is a legal document that gives someone the power to make medical decisions for you when you can’t.

When you name a person, you can choose to limit their decision making power to certain things by noting down any particular preferences. Or you can let them do as they see fit in all cases. You can specify:

  • Whether to administer pain relief, even at risk to life.
  • The decision to donate organs and tissues, and for what purpose.
  • Choice of physician.
  • Whether to resuscitate.
  • The use of specific medical procedures or courses of treatment.

By making your wishes clear, you can avoid conflict if your family has different opinions. Like all estate planning, the sooner you set up an advanced health care directive, the better, just in case.