Chapter 8: Advance Directives


Advance directives contain a list of procedures that allow you to control your medical care. Advance directives let your wishes be known ahead of time. They can inform caregivers about your wishes and plans. They provide information even if you cannot talk at the time because of a serious illness. End-of-life decisions are the most common use of these documents.

Advance directives usually take the form of one or more documents:

  • A living will
  • A durable medical power of attorney
  • A resuscitation directive

b8-staying-on-courseYou can write advance directives in many ways. You can get special forms for advance directives from your doctor or local hospital. An attorney can also prepare these documents for you. Many health care and legal groups provide information on setting up advance directives. They also have free forms and links to on-line help. These organizations include the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Bar Association, AARP and the American Cancer Society. On-line sites allow you to register your documents on-line. One such site is the U.S. Living Will Registry. They also provide links to individual states. Here you can get forms that meet your state’s legal requirements. Also, there are many on-line legal services where you can prepare your own legal documents for a small fee.

However, advance directives do not have to be complex legal documents. They can be short, simple statements about what you want done or not done if you can’t speak for yourself. You can choose to simply write your wishes down. You may want to have what you have written reviewed by your doctor or a lawyer. This may help ensure that your directives are understood exactly as you hoped. When you are pleased with your directives, they should be notarized if possible. Copies should be given to your family and your doctor.

Most important is the discussion with family and health care providers. This must go with any of these documents. The documents can stand alone. And in the absence of these documents, your discussion with family and doctors can stand alone. However, the best way to make sure your wishes are followed is to combine documents with discussions.

Last update: December 4, 2009