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You’ve Filed Your Taxes. Now Do Something Else Important For You and Your Loved Ones.

OK, you’ve made the mid-April tax deadline. Congrats. Now what?

Here’s a thought: Get something arguably as important – or even more so – in order next.

We’re talking about critical health care decisions in the event you’re not able to communicate decisions yourself – decisions you can define in an “advance directive.”

That’s the aim of National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16 every year, which is typically the day after taxes are due.

Unlike taxes, advance directives aren’t something you’re obligated to execute, but experts agree you’ll feel immense relief should you take on the task. You’ll then have legal documents in place to safeguard the ways in which you want important decisions made about your health care if you are unable to communicate them yourself due to an accident, illness or other factors.

“Having a conversation is a good place to start, after you’ve gone through the contemplative part of it,” says Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice in Grand Rapids.

Lowe, and scores of her employees, have witnessed firsthand the friction that can ensue when advance directives aren’t in place, and loved ones start arguing about what dad or mom would want when they can no longer decide on their own.

“What we’ve seen is how there is so much more peace in the family when those documents are in place,” says Lowe, noting that setting up advance directives “can serve as a final gift of clarity for your loved ones.”

Conversations should eventually include the person or persons you’re confident about choosing to serve as your durable power of attorney for health care decisions revolving around the types of medical interventions you do and do not want dependent upon the situation.

“Those conversations help determine who the right person for that is,” says Lowe, emphasizing that you shouldn’t automatically choose your spouse or firstborn, but instead that person you can best trust to carry out your wishes.

Advance directives remain in effect until you change it, so it’s a good idea to review your advance directives on an annual basis, especially if your life has been affected by divorce, separation or other family crises that might affect your initial choice.

“You never know when something unforeseen is going to happen,” she says.

Lowe understands that some people find it a daunting task to discuss death and dying. Her suggestion?

“You don’t have to do it all at once. Take your time,” she says. “Think about it, then have those conversations. Break it up into smaller pieces, but then act.”

And she offers this to consider, “It’s always better to have advance directives in place and not need them, than it is to need them and not have them.”

A lawyer is not needed to fill out an advance directive, but witnesses are required for the document to become legally valid. For more information about advance directives, consider visiting websites like, where you can navigate to the state you live in for specific guidelines, and download forms. You can also learn more via the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at

Once your advance directive is complete, be sure your doctors have a copy, as well as everyone who might be involved with your health care decisions. Store the original document in a safe but easy to find place. Avoid locking the document away, so it can still be accessed by loved ones if you’re unexpectedly hospitalized.

For more information about Emmanuel Hospice, call 616.719.0919 or visit