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How to Take Control in End-of-Life Decisions

After battling cancer, 65-year-old retired nurse Cora Kreachbaum made a choice to receive palliative care at home to manage the pain during the time she had left.

If you live in California and you want to complete and file an Advance Health Care Directive (sometimes erroneously referred to as a "living will"), start at the website of the state Attorney General. The AG's office has an Advance Health Care Directive information page, which also has links to other resources.

You can download forms directly from the AG's website. They're free. Many other websites also offer forms as a free download. As long as it's the California form, it's safe to use. Be aware that some websites charge for the forms. You should never pay any fee to download the blank Advance Health Care Directive form.

Confused about which form to use and how best to communicate your wishes? There is free help available, from both the medical and legal perspectives.

Your first and best source of guidance is likely your physician. But if you're looking for additional sources of information on this difficult topic, read on.

AARP offers advice from Caring Connections, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform has information on Advance Health Care Directives, Durable Power of Attorney and Living Trusts.

LawHelpCA.org has curated an extensive online discussion of the legal implications of end-of-life decisions, and the consumer legal self-help site Nolo.com also has multiple resources.

An online search will likely turn up free legal resources in your community.

Once you've completed the forms, give copies to your physician, your attorney (if appropriate), any person (or people) you've asked to act on your behalf, and anyone else who may be called on to provide information when the time comes. Finally, file your Advance Health Care Directive with the California Secretary of State's office.

If you live in a state other than California, you need to use the form for your state. Caring Connections has information and forms for all 50 states.

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