About Advance Directives for Health Care

two doctors conferring

Advance directives for health care are legal documents that enable you to plan for and communicate your end-of-life decisions. Should you become unconscious or too ill to write or speak, they give you a voice in your medical treatment. Without advance directives, these critical decisions could be made by people—including doctors, judges, and family members—with whom you’ve never shared your wishes.

There are two basic documents that allow you to write out your wishes for medical care, both grouped under the broad heading of health-care directives. It’s wise to prepare both.

  • A living will allows you to document your wishes concerning medical treatments at the end of life.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care (or health-care proxy) allows you to appoint a person you trust as your health-care agent (or surrogate decision-maker). This person is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf if accident or illness prevents you from communicating.

Advance directives for health care, which can be called by several names in different states, are legally valid throughout the United States. In some states, the living will and durable power of attorney for health care are combined into one document. Because laws governing advance directives vary from state to state, it’s important to complete and sign advance directives that comply with your state’s laws.

Lesson Contents

I. Introduction

II. Advance Directives for Health Care

a. Living Will
b. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
c. Obtaining Advance Directive Documents for Your State
d. Storing Your Advance Directives for Health Care
e. Changing or Updating Your Documents

III. Starting an Advance Directive Discussion

V. Learn More


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Communicate Your Advance Directives for Health Care belongs to a series called Legally Secure Your Financial Future. The series also includes information to help you organize important household papers and begin preparing your estate plan.