Helping Another Person Make Health Care Directives

If the person you want to help is of sound mind and wants to write down health care wishes, your job should not be difficult. You can use this program to explain the process, answer questions and help prepare and finalize the right documents.

Consider the Circumstances

If you think someone who needs help will resist your efforts or you're concerned about their mental or physical ability to complete the documents, you need to carefully consider the way you approach the subject.

Explaining why the documents are important. If you're concerned about a loved one who is becoming mentally or physically frail, you might begin by simply talking about the benefits of the documents. Some people may be moved by a request to plan ahead because it will relieve anxiety and pressure for you and other caretakers. Others may be more inclined to make health care documents if they understand that doing so is the best way for them to stay in control and get the kind of medical care they want. (You can emphasize that whomever they name to make decisions for them must follow their instructions in every possible way.)

Helping someone who is becoming forgetful or absentminded. Of course, when you talk with someone who's struggling with increasing mental frailty, you will have to be sensitive to feelings about deteriorating mental abilities. Frustration, shame or a sense of loss may well make your loved one more resistant to your help. You may want to underscore that planning is a good thing for anybody—including the young and healthy—just in case it's necessary someday.

Ultimately, however, you should never try to force someone to follow a certain course because you think it's best. If you strong-arm someone whose mental abilities are waning, and the documents you make are later challenged in court, you could find yourself in a lot of legal trouble.

Assisting someone with intellectual disabilities. An individual with intellectual disabilities may make a legally valid health care directive only if they have the mental capacity to fully understand the document.

Helping to Finalize the Documents

If you are helping someone else prepare health care documents and that person is too ill or weak to sign them, you or another person may sign the documents at his or her direction.

The person making the document and the signer should appear together in front of the witnesses and/or notary public (depending on the state and the document) so that someone can observe the signing and confirm, if it is ever necessary, that it is what the document maker wanted and directed.