Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(7):1270

See related article on end-of-life preferences.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is a plan for how you would make health care choices if you became very sick. If you became too sick to make decisions, your doctor would look at your advance directive to know what you would want. There are two types of advance directives. One is called a living will and the other is called a durable power of attorney for health care.

What is a living will?

A living will is a written plan that tells your doctor what you want if you can’t make health care decisions for yourself. Your living will tells your doctor if you would want surgery, a tube to feed you, or a machine to breathe for you. You have to write a living will while you are healthy and able to make your own decisions. It would only be used if you become sick and could not make your own choices.

What is a durable power of attorney for health care?

It allows you to name someone to make choices for you if you become too sick to do it yourself. This person can only make choices for you if you cannot make them yourself.

Why do I need an advance directive?

Many people have strong feelings about the medical care they would want or not want if they were very sick or badly hurt. An advance directive lets you choose what treatments you want before you become too sick to decide.

Write down your values and beliefs about quality of life before a crisis occurs, so that your family and your doctor know what your wishes are.

Give your doctor a copy of your signed advance directive, and take copies with you whenever you go to the hospital.

What if I change my mind?

You can change your mind any time about the choices you put in your advance directive. All you need to do is say or write that you have changed your mind and what your newest wishes are. This will cancel any forms you signed before.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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