Driving conditions can be hazardous during the notorious Buffalo winters. Imagine that a family member is involved in a car accident and is taken to the hospital in critical condition.

He is unable to make decisions about his own health care and family members are lost and confused about all the decisions that need to be made. If the family member is one of the 80 percent of New Yorkers who do not have advanced directives, a routine outing can suddenly transform into a time of crisis.

Many people do not take the time to complete advanced directives because they think that advanced care plans are only for people who are dying or they are afraid to have that type of conversation with their loved ones. Some people might also not be aware that there are options available for making your health care wishes known and appointing someone to make health care decisions if you are not able.

For individuals who currently do not have advanced directives, New York recently passed the Family Health Care Decisions Act. This law allows for appointment of a surrogate health care decision-maker based on a prioritized list of individuals starting with guardians authorized to make health care decisions, followed respectively by a spouse or domestic partner, adult child, parent, adult sibling and close friend.

Prior to the Family Health Care Decisions Act, a loved one was not permitted to make health care decisions unless there was "clear and convincing evidence" of the person's wishes if they were in that specific situation. This type of evidence was generally impossible to obtain because most people do not keep documented records about the care they would wish to receive in specific situations.

One limitation of this law is that the surrogate list is prioritized based on an arbitrary order rather than who would be the best person to make decisions on behalf of the patient. For this reason, among others, it is critical that everyone complete an advanced directive.

Advanced directives allow you to appoint a surrogate of your choice, direct him to make certain decisions for you if you are unable, and make your wishes known regarding treatment, organ donation, end-of-life planning and any other health-related decisions.

Thankfully, for the majority of us who are confused about how to make advanced directives, there are resources to help guide us.

You can find information and forms at http://sharingyourwishes.org/ or you can call the Coalition for Health Care Decision-Making of Erie County at (716) 686-8070. Make the promise to your family to have the conversations and complete advance directives for yourself and with your loved ones.

Michele McNerney is a master's degree candidate at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

Click here to see the comments. Add yours now!