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Advance Directives

What Are They and Why Do I Need Them?

Advance Directives are legal documents that outline medical and end-of-life choices you want made on your behalf if you aren’t able to communicate them yourself. 

They are one of the best ways you can communicate your wishes to family, friends and health care professionals, and to avoid confusion later on about what you would want or what you would do.

Advance Directives Include At Least 2 Key Documents

1. A Living Will

A Living Will outlines your wishes about your medical care.  It acts as a guide for your family and health care team when they need to make medical and healthcare decisions when you are unable to. A living will goes into effect when you are no longer able to make your own decisions.

A living will explains your choices about care that is intended to sustain your life. You can accept or refuse medical care. There are many issues to address, including

•The use of dialysis and breathing machines

•If you want to be resuscitated if breathing or heartbeat stops

•Tube feeding

•Organ or tissue donation

2. A Medical Power of Attorney (also called a Health Proxy)

A Medical Power of Attorney lets you to choose and appoint     someone you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate and make decisions for yourself.  This includes not only decisions at the end of your life, but also in other medical situations.

A Medical Power of Attorney goes into effect when your physician declares that you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

Your living will and your medical power of attorney need to be written according to the laws of your state, reviewed regularly and adjusted as your choices, options and circumstances change.

If it is your wish, you might also want to include

a Do Not Resuscitate order in your Advance Directive

A Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, is a request NOT to have cardiopulminary resuscitation (CPR) performed on you if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. 

  1. A DNR is important because, unless hospital staff has this order or is given other instructions, they will try to help all patients whose heart has stopped or who have stopped breathing.

  1. You can use an advance directive form or tell your doctor that you don’t want to be resuscitated.  If you do so, a DNR order is put in your medical chart by your doctor.

  1. DNR orders are accepted by all doctors and hospitals in all states.  The important thing is to make sure the people who need to know about the DNR do, in fact, know about it.

How Do I Write My Advance Directives?

You can find and use basic forms to create a living will, a medical power of attorney, a DNR order and other advance directives without having to hire a lawyer.

The National Hospice and Paliative Care Organization, your state hospice organizations, local hospitals, public health departments, state bar associations and state aging offices provide state-specific Advance Directives forms and instructions.

Find links for Advance Directives forms by state now

Some Tips About Writing Advance Directives

  1. It is important that you use Advance Directive forms that are specifically created for the state you live in, so that they conform to your state’s laws, rules and regulations. 

  1. Read the forms carefully, complete them as directed and make sure you follow the legal requirements provided.

  1. You may need to have someone sign as a witness on your documents, and/or have the forms signed by a notary public for the forms to be legal.  (Your state forms will include instructions.)

  1. Keep the original copy of your completed Advance Directives in an easy to remember and easy to find place at home.

  1. Give copies of your Advance Directives to your doctor or healthcare provider, your family members, your legal representatives and the person or people you have chosen to act on your behalf under your Medical Power of Attorney.

  1. Your Advance Directives stay in effect unless you cancel them, make changes to them or write new ones. 

  1. You should review your Advance Directives documents regularly and make adjustments and changes as your choices, needs and circumstances change.

For most of us, facing and making end-of-life choices, decisions or  plans is not something we want to do.  The choices aren’t easy.   The decisions may be emotionally painful. The plans we have to make can be so final.  

Nevertheless, we need to communicate our choices to those who love and care for us.  And Advance Directives do that for us. 

We should at Advance Directives as a gift we give not only to ourselves, but also to our families and all of those who care for us. 

What kind of gift is it?  Just call it peace of mind.

More Advance Directive Resources From AsYouAge

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization            

800-658-8898 (Help Line)

Aging with Dignity

U.S. Living Wills Registry

Advance directives are legal documents, but you don’t need a lawyer to write them for you.   Many medical, legal and other professional organizations offer state-by state forms you can use to create the documents  you need for yourself.

The Consumers Took Kit

For Health Care Advance Planning

From The American Bar Association

Good advance planning for health care decisions is

in reality, a continuing conversation.

A conversation about your priorities, your spiritual values

the meaning of your life, and quality of your life.

The tool kit does not create a formal advance directive for you. Instead, it helps you do the much harder job of discovering, clarifying, and communicating what is important to you in the face of serious illness.

The Consumer Took Kit’s 10 topics cover:

  1. How to select your health care agent or proxy

  1. Are some conditions worse than death?

  1. How do you weigh ‘prospects for survival?

  1. Personal priorities & values important to your medical decisions

  1. After death decisions to think about today.

  1. Conversation scripts: getting past the resistance

  1. The proxy quiz for family and physician

  1. What to do after signing your health care advance directive

  1. Guide for Health Care Proxies

  1. Resources: advance planning for health care

Download the ABA Consumers Advance Planning Tool Kit now

Have A Caring Conversation

With Yourself and Your Loved Ones

The Caring Conversations Workbook from the Midwest Bioethics Center in Kansas City, Missouri includes

  1. Questions and answers about advance planning

  2. A questionnaire that helps clarify your values and choices

  3. An advanced planning workbook and

  4. An advance directive form

Download the Caring Conversations Workbook now

3 Steps For Advance Directives

  1. 1.Organize your thoughts

  2. 2.Prepare the right documents

  3. 3.Communicate: make sure the people who need to have the documents have them.

The ABA Advance Planning Tool Kit offers 10 “tools” (self-help worksheets, suggestions, and resources) to help organize the process of advance planning for health care and end-of-life decisions.  It’s very easy to understand and use.

Advance Directives are for you and also for those who love and care for you (personally and professionally) as you age.  Review them regularly.

Share your advance health care wishes and instructions with your doctor and other healthcare providers, as well as your family and those you trust for your care.

A Medical Power of Attorney only takes effect when you become incapable of making your own medical or health care decisions.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)  orders can be included in your Advance Directives and your medical chart if you wish.  They are accepted by all doctors and hospitals. is a directory of Senior information and Senior resources for in-home care, healthcare, senior housing, Social Security, Medicare, Veterans benefits, elderlaw, nutrition, fitness, travel, finance, medical symptoms, consumer protection, senior  care, caregiving and more.