Understanding Advance Directives

What are advance directives?
“Advance directives” are legal documents that allow you to plan and make your end-of-life wishes known. Advance directives include a living will and a medical power of attorney. A living will describes your wishes for medical care, while a medical power of attorney allows you to appoint a person to make health care decisions for you in case you are unable to speak for yourself.

What is a living will?
A living will is an advance directive that guides your family and doctors on your health care if you are unable to communicate your wishes.

What is a medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney is the advance directive that allows you to select a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to communicate and make decisions for yourself. This includes not only decisions at the end of your life, but in any medical situation.

Who should I select to be my medical power of attorney?
You should choose someone you trust, such as a close family member or good friend who understands your wishes and feels comfortable making health care decisions for you. You should have ongoing conversations with this person to talk about your wishes. Make sure your medical power of attorney feels comfortable and confident about the type of medical care you want to receive.

What are the most common end-of-life decisions people make using advance directives?
The most common end-of-life medical decisions that you, family members or an appointed health care agent must make involve your wishes for CPR (or not), breathing tubes (or not) and artificial nutrition and hydration. These life-sustaining treatments are specific medical procedures that support the body and keep a person alive when the body is not able to function on its own. Decisions about these treatments are complicated and personal, depending on your situation.

Source: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization