The Basics: Advance Directives and Living Wills

What Is an Advance Directive?

An advance directive is a document that gives information to healthcare providers about the care you want if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. This document comprises two parts: a living will and a medical power of attorney.

Advance directive documents are legally recognized in every state, although each state has established its own parameters for the use of these tools.

Here's how to make sure your wishes will be honored at the end of life:

  • Determine the end-of-life care options available to you
  • Decide for yourself what kind of care you would want, and what kind of care you would not want
  • Discuss your end-of-life wishes with loved ones and your physician
  • Document so it’s clear for all to see

Even though many people find it hard to talk about these topics, they have strong opinions about how they would want to be treated. Early advance care planning is the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your family and friends.

Components of Advance Directives

Living Will

A living will is one part of an advance directive. It defines your wishes about medical treatments and what should or should not be done if you are no longer able to express your treatment preferences. But without a medical power of attorney established, a living will fails to provide the flexibility of a proxy who can make decisions on your behalf.

Power of Attorney

The durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions is another part of an advance directive, allowing you to name a proxy representative who will speak for your values and wishes if you are not able to speak for yourself because of illness, injury or debilitation. You should appoint a trusted family member or close friend who is mentally and emotionally capable of making healthcare decisions on your behalf, and who understands your preferences and values. Start an ongoing conversation with this individual about your end-of-life wishes to ensure that your healthcare proxy understands your current feelings and your way of thinking.

Call VITAS to learn more about hospice and palliative care options.

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