What is an Advance Directive?
Also known as a living will, this is a legal document that lets your healthcare team know your preferences for the medical care you would want to receive in the future. This is different from a financial will that typically names someone to manage your estate or provides for the transfer of your property at death.
You do not need a lawyer to complete your advance directive – all that is required is your signature, the signatures of two witnesses, and your advance directive is legal.
What are the most important components of an Advance Directive?
1. Naming a Medical Durable Power of Attorney
This is the person who you would want to speak on your behalf regarding your medical care in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. Ideally this person knows your values, is easily reachable (at least by phone) and is comfortable speaking with healthcare providers. You can name primary decision makers as well as back-ups. This is probably the most important part of an advance directive.
2. Outlining your preferences for resuscitation attempts in the event of your death
This is also known as your "code status." By default, doctors or medics will attempt to restart your heart using chest compressions (CPR), electric shocks, medications and placement of a breathing tube for life support in the event that your heart and lungs stop and you die. Often, patients have preferences for which of these treatments they would or would not want.
In addition, many patients have preferences for how long they would want to stay on life support. For example, some patients would want resuscitation to be attempted, but would not want to live on life support machines for more than a couple of days. Other patients would not want resuscitation attempts to be made at all and would prefer to be allowed a natural death.
An advance directive allows you to express your wishes ahead of time so that your family and medical providers know what you would want in certain situations.
Examples of Advance Directives
Resources to Help You Have the Conversation With Your Loved Ones