What is an advance directive?

Also known as a living will, an advance directive is a legal document that lets your healthcare team know your preferences for the medical care you would want to receive in the future. This is different from a financial will that typically names someone to manage your estate or provides for the transfer of your property at death.

You do not need a lawyer to complete your advance directive – all that is required for it to be legal is your signature and the signatures of two witnesses.

Important components of an advance directive

Naming a medical durable power of attorney

This is the person you would want to speak on your behalf regarding your medical care in the event you’re unable to speak for yourself. Ideally this person knows your values, is easily reachable (at least by phone), and is comfortable speaking with healthcare providers. You can name primary decision makers as well as back-ups. This is probably the most important part of an advance directive.

Outlining your preferences for resuscitation

This is also known as your “code status.” By default, doctors or medics will attempt to restart your heart using chest compressions (CPR), electric shocks, medications, and placement of a breathing tube for life support in the event that your heart and lungs stop and you die. Often, patients have preferences for which of these treatments they would or would not want.

In addition, many patients have preferences for how long they would want to stay on life support. For example, some patients want resuscitation to be attempted, but do not want to live on life support machines for more than a couple of days. Other patients do not want resuscitation attempts to be made at all, and would prefer to be allowed a natural death.

An advance directive allows you to express your wishes ahead of time so that your family and medical providers know what you would want in certain situations.

Learn more about advance directives at our online Health Library.

Examples of advance directives

Talking with your loved ones

These resources can help you have a conversation about your wishes with the people you love.

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