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Advance Directive: What to Include

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An advance directive is a form. It describes the kinds of medical care you want to have if you're badly hurt or have a serious illness and can't speak for yourself. A living will (declaration) and a medical power of attorney (durable power of attorney for health care) are types of advance directives.

It may be hard to know what to include in your advance directive if your form doesn't tell you what to address. Many states have a unique advance directive form. (For example, the form may ask you to address specific issues.) Or you might use a universal form that has been approved by many states.

You can also use the information below to help you get started.

Making decisions

Who do you want to make your health care decisions for you?

Types of treatment

Do you know enough about the kinds of treatments that can help keep you alive?

Life support

How do you feel about the use of life support if you:

Your concerns

What concerns you the most?

Quality of life

What does quality of life mean to you?

Do you have any other thoughts about what quality of life means to you and how much control you want to have over it?

End-of-life questions

Here are some other questions to think about:

Spiritual beliefs

Finding answers

You may find it hard to answer some of these questions. Here's a way to help make things more clear.

Try to picture yourself in each of the situations listed below. Then think about what you would like to happen if you couldn't say what you wanted. As you read through each example, write down any thoughts that come to you.

Try this exercise again with a few more "what if" situations. This time you might think about what your doctor says about your chances for recovery and how that might affect what you decide to do. You may see some patterns develop that can help you decide what to include in your advance directive.

These decisions are tough to make, but you don't have to make them alone. Look to your family, your doctor, your health care agent, and your friends for help and support. Involve them as you write your advance directive so they'll know what you want. If something happens that you didn't plan for, they'll have a better idea of how you would want to handle it.

Changing your advance directive

You can change or cancel your advance directive at any time. Just fill out new forms and get rid of your existing forms. Or you can just let your family, your doctor, and your health care agent know about the change. If you change or create new forms, give everyone an updated copy. Don't just cross out or add new information unless it's only to change your address or phone number.

Storing your advance directive

Keep copies of your living will and medical power of attorney in a safe but easy-to-access place where others can find them. Do not keep your advance directive forms in a safe deposit box. If you can't speak for yourself, your family may not know how to access these forms. And don't rely on your lawyer to be able to provide the documents when they are needed. Your family may not know who to contact.

If your state offers an online registry, you may be able to store your advance directive online so authorized health care providers can find it right away. Give copies of these documents to your doctor, your health care agent, your family members, your lawyer, and anyone else who may need them.

Credits for Advance Directive: What to Include

Current as of: June 16, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Jean S. Kutner MD, MSPH - Geriatric Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Robin L. Fainsinger MBChB, LMCC, CCFP - Palliative Medicine

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