Advance Directives for Health Care

Advance directives for health care are legal documents that enable you to plan for and communicate your end-of-life decisions in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. Thoughtfully prepared advance directives can ease the burden on those who must make health-care decisions for you. Without advance directives, decisions might be made by doctors, family members, and sometimes even judges who may know little about your wishes. Advance directives give you a voice in decisions about your medical treatment, even if you are unconscious or too ill to communicate.

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), who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate as a result of an accident or illness.

Advance directives for health care, which can be called by different 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 the laws governing advance directives vary from state to state, it’s important to complete and sign advance directives that comply with your state’s law.