An advance directive is a legal document that controls a person’s medical intent when they cannot do so because of severe dementia, serious injury, coma or terminal illness. When you create an advance health care directive, you can be specific about the types of treatment you want to receive in this situation.
Preparing an advance directive before an unexpected injury or illness can help relieve the stress of making medical decisions from your family members.
Types of advance directives
A living will expresses a person’s wishes when he or she is terminally ill or permanently unconscious. A durable power of attorney designates a person to make medical decisions on your behalf. A DPA activates when you become unconscious or cannot make medical decisions. Laws for these vary state by state.
Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness can establish a POLST (physician orders for life-sustaining treatment). It does not replace other directives. A DNR (do-not-resuscitate) restricts CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) when the heart or breath stops.
Important things to know
Advance directives spare the stress of making medical decisions when a person is unable. Anyone age 18 or older can prepare an advance directive.
A person can construct their own advance directive in writing or use a form. Notarize all directive documents. Give copies to your doctor and family.
You can modify an advance directive at any time. Notarize modifications for validity. Changes can also be made in the hospital by notifying the doctor. Be sure your intentions are clearly understood by all parties, such as your family and all members of your health care team.