What You Need to Know About Five Wishes

Have you ever heard of Five Wishes? This is an advance directive created by Aging with Dignity, a non-profit U.S. based organization that advocates for the needs of seniors and those that care for them. The founder of this organization, Jim Towey, developed this advanced directive to ensure that people of all ages receive the treatment they want if they become seriously ill. Five Wishes is all about expressing a patient’s personal, emotional, spiritual, and medical wishes in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about the Five Wishes program.

Why Should I Fill Out an Advance Directive?

If you become seriously ill, the Five Wishes advance directive allows you to express your wishes regarding important medical care decisions. It’s a common belief that your doctor or loved ones will know what you want, but this is far from true. Everyone is different and has their own wishes for how they are treated, what they do and do not want to happen to them, who will make healthcare decisions on behalf of you, and what you want to tell your family before you pass. Indeed, by completing this key document, you will help your doctor and family make the best decisions for you if the time comes. This also helps avoid family arguments about what decisions should be made for you. Five Wishes can give you and your family peace of mind that they will know what you want during a difficult time.

Is Five Wishes a Legal Document?

Yes, Five Wishes is a legal document written with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging. This advanced directive meets the legal requirements of 44 states, but is used in all 50. A federal law requires health care providers to honor patients’ wishes as expressed in this document. 

Who Can Be My Healthcare Agent?

Anyone 18 or older can act as your healthcare agent in all states, except Colorado where the agent needs to be 21 or older. Your state may disqualify anyone from this role if there is a conflict of interest, such as your doctor. It’s recommended that you select someone that is trustworthy and reliable. It doesn’t have to be a family member as not everyone has a living family member or someone that will fully carry out your wishes. Indeed, a healthcare agent can be a spouse, adult child, close friend, or mentor. While some people choose to select multiple people to act as your agent, it’s best to choose one person. If you choose more than one person, ensure that there are clear wishes about who gets the final say if no one can agree on your healthcare decisions.

When Does Five Wishes Take Effect?

This advance directive only takes effect when you are seriously ill and no longer able to communicate. The person you have chosen to be your healthcare agent will use your Five Wishes document to help convey your specific wishes about your care to your doctor. If you are still able to communicate, you can still make your own decisions about your care and will not need to use Five Wishes.

How Do I Complete a Five Wishes Advance Directive?

If you are completing a traditional paper advanced directive, follow these steps:

  • Review the document with your family
  • Follow the directions for signing the document in ink
  • Discuss the document with your healthcare agent and doctor
  • Keep a completed copy in an easy to find location, such as in your file cabinet
  • Share copies of the advanced directive with your family and doctor

If you are completing the advanced directive online, follow these steps:

  • Fill out the online version on your computer
  • Print out the completed document and share copies with your family and doctor

Can I Update My Five Wishes Document?

Yes, you can update your Five Wishes document at any time. It’s recommended that you review your document once a year, especially when you have experienced major life changes. This includes when you get married, have children, or become ill. After you update your document, it’s crucial that you inform your healthcare agent and doctor. Replace the old copies with the updated versions, which will ensure that your family and healthcare team will be aware of any changes made to Five Wishes.

Who Can Be My Witnesses?

In most states, certain people cannot serve as your witness to avoid having a conflict of interest. This includes a relative or beneficiary. Your witness does not have to understand or agree with your wishes. They only need to confirm that you are of sound mind when you sign your advanced directive. 

What Should I Do After Completing My Five Wishes Document?

After you have signed your Five Wishes and met all the requirements for your state, this important document should be stored somewhere easy to find. At home, this may be in your desk or bedroom nightstand drawer. The wallet card attached to the Five Wishes document should be signed and placed in your wallet. As recommended above, it’s a great idea to scan several copies for your family, healthcare agent, and doctors. This just makes it easier to access if you become seriously ill and the advanced directive is required.

As you can see, Five Wishes is an excellent way to convey your specific wishes about your health care. No one knows when serious illness or end-of-life will strike, which is why it’s important to take the steps to complete this form. At Liberty HomeCare and Hospice Services, we encourage our patients and their families to learn about the Five Wishes program. Contact us today to learn more about this new type of living will, as well as our hospice services designed to help make each day matter with compassionate, expert care.