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"Advance directive" is a general term used to describe these two types of documents:

  • Living wills (sometimes called "advance health care directives") are written instructions for care you want or do not want in the event that you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself. State laws vary, so it is important to check on your state's requirements when completing these documents
  • Appointment of a health care surrogate or Medical power of attorney (also called a durable power of attorney for health care) is a document that names someone to make health care decisions for you when you cannot.
  • The powers granted in a durable power of attorney are those described in the document, or included by state statute. Those powers only include health care decisions, if the document or statutes include the authority to make health care decisions. The law varies by state law- you should consult an experienced attorney for advice on your states' requirements.


If you are incapacitated, a guardianship would give another person (often a loved one) legal authority to care for your personal and property interests.

Advance directives should list the treatments you do and do not want to receive. For example, you may choose to have your doctor include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in your medical record. This tells all health care providers that you do not want them to attempt life-saving measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event you have heart attack or respiratory arrest.


Organizing Your Documents

Keep your planning documents easily accessible and in more than one place. It is important that your health care decision maker has a copy, or can access a copy quickly in an emergency. Give copies to appropriate family members and friends, your physician, and your lawyer. Consider carrying a wallet card.

Last modified on 02/18/2020