Many older people say they “don’t want to be a burden” on their families. And yet, by not making a handful of key decisions and not completing the associated paperwork, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the very situation they say they’d like to avoid.

Specifically, new research indicates that nearly two-thirds of people do not have an advance directive, a group of forms on which you state your wishes regarding your medical care should you become incapacitated. That typically includes what used to be called a living will, a power-of-attorney for healthcare matters, a guardianship appointment, and a HIPAA waiver.

A living will states what, if any, extreme measures (ventilator, feeding tube) you would like to be taken in order to sustain your life.

A power-of-attorney for healthcare matters names someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

A guardianship appointment names a person who would have responsibility for you if you became incapacitated.

And a HIPPA waiver enables a healthcare provider to release medical information about you to specific people.

As reported by Kaiser Health News, a recent analysis of 150 studies covering nearly 800,000 people found that just 37% had completed an advance directive.

People over age 65 were more likely than younger people to have made these decisions and completed the paperwork. However, people with chronic illnesses were only slightly more likely to have done so (38% vs. 33% of people without chronic illnesses).

Dr. Katherine Courtright, the study’s senior author, said, “Many people don’t sign advance directives because they worry they’re not going to get any care if they say they don’t want [cardiopulmonary resuscitation]. It becomes this very scary document that says, ‘Let me die.’”

In reality, a living will enables you to state your wishes along a wide spectrum of care.

Many advance directive documents can be found online. However, in my opinion, it would be best to use an estate-planning attorney. The documents are all about peace-of-mind. Knowing you have the right forms and that they are filled out correctly is worth the price of the attorney’s fees.

For more on this topic, read, It May Be Time To Review Your Estate-Planning Documents.

Do you have an advance directive? If so, did you use an attorney or take a DIY approach? If you don’t have one, why not?