Advance Care Planning
What Is Advance Care Planning?
Advance care planning is making decisions about the care you
would want if you were unable to speak for yourself. The goal is
for you to live well in a way that is meaningful to you.
These are your decisions to make. Regardless of what you choose
for your care, your decisions should be based on your personal
values, beliefs and preferences. It is important for you to openly
discuss your choices with your loved ones so they are aware of
The documents used in advance care planning are called "advance
directives"; they fall into two categories: those that provide
instructions regarding medical care and those that designate
someone, known as a “proxy” or “surrogate,” who is authorized to
make decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself.
Advance care planning means:
• Understanding possible future health choices
• Thinking about these choices and reflecting on what is
important to you
• Talking about your decisions with loved ones and your
• Putting your decisions in writing
How to Complete Advance Directives
• You do not need a lawyer to prepare advance directives.
• Make sure your advance directives accurately reflect your wishes.
• Get information on the types of life-sustaining treatments that
are available and decide what treatments you would or would
not want should you be unable to speak for yourself.
• Document your wishes by putting this information into writing
using your state-specific advance directives forms.
• Share your personal values and wishes with your loved ones.
• Read the instructions carefully to ensure that you have included
all of the necessary information, and that your documents are
• Keep the original documents in a safe but easily accessible
place, and tell others where you put them; you can note on the
photocopies the location where the originals are kept.
• It is important to provide a copy to your healthcare providers,
so they know your wishes and can make appropriate referrals to
honor your choices.
Examples of advance directives include:
• A living will, which is a written statement of healthcare wishes to be carried out if you are unable to communicate (for
example: decisions related to life support, disabling pacemakers
or defibrillators, nutrition, dialysis).
• A healthcare proxy, sometimes called a “healthcare surrogate”
or “healthcare power of attorney,” which allows you to name a
family member or trusted friend to speak on your behalf and
make decisions when or if you are unable.
Things to Consider
• If you are in an accident or have an illness that leaves you
unable to talk about your wishes, who will speak for you?
• Are there certain support measures you would or wouldn’t want
if you were terminally ill?
• Completing advance directives allows you to tell your family,
friends and healthcare providers about your wishes and
personal beliefs concerning continuing or withdrawing medical
treatments at the end of life.
• Conversations that focus on your wishes and beliefs will relieve
loved ones and healthcare providers of the need to guess or deal
with conflicting opinions about what you would want.
• Do not store your advance directives in a safe deposit box,
because other people need access to them. Instead, provide
copies to those individuals who are important to you and may
assist in carrying out your wishes.
• Before your living will can guide medical decision-making, two
physicians must certify that you are unable to make medical
decisions and that you are in the medical condition specified in
your state’s living will law. Other requirements may apply,
depending upon your state.
• Before a medical power of attorney goes into effect, your
physician must conclude that you are unable to make your
own medical decisions. If you regain the ability to make
decisions, your healthcare proxy or surrogate cannot continue
to act on your behalf. Many states have additional requirements
that apply only to decisions about life-sustaining medical
• Advance directives do not expire. An advance directive remains
in effect until you change it. If you complete a new advance
directive, it invalidates the previous one.
• You should review your advance directives periodically to
ensure they still reflect your wishes.
• One state’s advance directive does not always work in another
state. If you plan to spend a significant amount of time in more
than one state, you should complete advance directives for each
state that you will be spending time in.
• You can locate your state’s advance directives at