Planning Ahead/Advance Directives

By thinking ahead and communicating medical treatment preferences early on, your loved ones can prevent the anxiety of having to guess your wishes by some simple steps in planning ahead. More importantly, he or she will have the opportunity to make very personal health care decisions for themselves. So what is an advance directive? An advance directive is a written statement of your wishes, preferences and choices regarding end-of-life medical decisions.

To record medical preferences, your loved one will need to complete an advance directive in writing. There are two types of advance directives, and it is imperative to have both:

  1. Living Will: A living will is a legal document that illustrates what types of medical treatment a person wants at the end of life in the event they are unable to speak for themselves. It also informs medical professionals of an individual’s wish regarding specific decisions, such as whether to accept mechanical ventilation.
  2. Medical Power of Attorney (POA): A POA is a legal document that designates whom the patient has elected to make decisions regarding their medical care. The appointed health care agent (also called health care proxy, health care surrogate, or durable power of attorney for health care) is authorized to speak ONLY if the patient is unable to make their own medical decisions. This individual becomes the patient’s spokesperson and advocate on a range of medical matters. A durable power of attorney for health care differs from a regular durable power of attorney, which typically handles financial matters.

Many states combine the two forms into one document, which can be used to record one’s treatment preferences and name a health care advocate. The person appointed should know the person well and be willing to carry out the directions regardless of personal feelings. Two people must witness the signing of your advance directive form. A witness cannot be anyone who:

  • Is related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption
  • Is entitled to any portion of your estate
  • Has a claim against any portion of your estate
  • Has direct financial responsibility for your medical care
  • Has a controlling interest or is an employee of a residential facility in which you reside

If you are a resident of a long-term health center, one of the witnesses must be designated as a patient advocate or ombudsperson by the Department of Health and Social Services. An advance directive does not require an attorney and are free of charge for families.


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