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* This is the Consumer Version. *

End-of-Life Planning: Quick Facts

By The Manuals's Editorial Staff,

Planning for the end of life can be difficult. Decisions about end-of-life care are best made when people are still healthy.

People have many choices to make before death. End-of-life planning usually includes making choices about the following:

  • Which health care practitioners people wish to provide end-of-life care

  • Which treatments they wish to receive and which ones they do not wish to receive (for example, feeding tubes and cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

  • What type of palliative care and hospice care they wish to receive

  • Where they want to spend their final days

  • Whether they wish to donate organs

Advance directives are legal documents that communicate a person's wishes about health care decisions in the event the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions. These documents can help people make their wishes clear to their family members and health care providers.

There are two basic kinds of advance directives:

  • A living will expresses, in advance, a person's instructions or preferences about future medical treatments, particularly end-of-life care, in case the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions.

  • A durable power of attorney for health care is a document in which one person appoints another person (called a health care agent or proxy, health care representative, or another name depending on the state) to make decisions for the person in case the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions.

Did You Know...

  • A durable power of attorney for health care is particularly important for all adults, even younger adults, who want someone other than next of kin to control decision making (for example, a partner, friend, or anyone else legally unrelated).

When death is near, certain physical signs typically occur. The limbs may become cool and sometimes bluish or mottled. Breathing may become irregular and noisy. People may become confused and sleepy.

People also need to make decisions about what happens after death. Taking the time to prearrange and even prepay for funeral services can be very helpful to the family. Options after death can range from burial to cremation to donating the body to research.

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* This is the Consumer Version. *