Everybody seems to know (from popular TV shows, if nothing else) that DNR means “Do Not Resuscitate”, but do you know what “Do Not Resuscitate” means in your own personal healthcare directive or living will? Too often, when talking with clients about the healthcare documents in their estate plans, they don’t know the extent of their own (or their parent’s or grandparent’s) instructions.

“Do Not Resuscitate” can cover a wide array of options, which is why it is so important to define what “life-saving procedures” means to you, and exactly when you would like your DNR to go into effect. Here are some examples of “life-saving procedures” that you (or your elderly relatives) should talk about with family, medical staff, and your estate planning attorney:

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration When grandma decides to stop drinking fluids orally and begins to dehydrate, does the nursing staff have permission to keep her hydrated via IV fluids? What about if you are in a non-reversible coma and unable to drink liquids on your own?

Antibiotics or Other Medicines Do you include antibiotics in your definition of “life-saving procedures?” Do you still if you have been declared irreversibly brain-dead by two independent physicians? When you are 102 and confined to a bed in a nursing home, do you want to be given medicines to combat pneumonia or other illnesses?

Chemotherapy A point similar to the paragraph above; if you are 102, afflicted with dementia and confined to a bed, do you want to receive expensive and painful chemotherapy treatments if the doctors discover cancer?

Blood Transfusions Blood Transfusions are fairly universally considered “life-saving procedures”, and they should be addressed in your healthcare documents. Do you have religious reasons for refusing a blood transfusion? Do you still want one if you are severely and irreversibly disabled?

Organ Donation Though obviously not considered a “life-saving procedure”, organ donation is a topic you should discuss with your family, medical providers, and estate planning attorney to prevent any misunderstandings or delays in treatment if and when the situation arises.

A healthcare directive is one of the most important documents in your estate plan. State-specific healthcare directives or living wills can often be found for free online or at your doctor’s office, and in a pinch these will work; but they cannot take the place of a conversation with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney who will ensure that all aspects of your decision-making process are addressed and put down in writing.