Planning and preparing offer you and your loved ones peace of mind that your wishes will be met. Advance directives are important planning tools that provide greater control over future care decisions. These documents outline and protect your care preferences in the event that you are unable to express them yourself.
Advance directives guide your loved ones and health care providers by specifying what treatments you do or do not want to receive. It lets you set your own care terms. You decide how, or even if, you wish to be treated in various scenarios. All adults, not just older adults or those with serious medical conditions, should complete advance directives. State laws vary on advance directives.
Types of Advance Directives
- Living Will
A living will is a legal document that specifies the kind of medical or life-sustaining treatments you do or do not want in the event you are unable to make your own decisions or communicate.
- Durable Power of Attorney (DPA)
A durable power of attorney (DPA) is a written authorization that names another person such as a loved one or family member as a health care agent or proxy. This document allows the designated person to make medical care decisions for you.
- Letter of Instruction
A letter of instruction is not a substitute for a will, but it offers similar points of guidance. In the letter you can name persons to look after children or pets, direct persons to important documents or accounts, and include a list of important contacts such as an employer, attorney or financial advisor. You can also specify memorial or funeral instructions.
- Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
By default, hospital, NH and EMT staff will try to resuscitate a patient who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped. A do not resuscitate order (DNR) is a request that instructs medical professionals not to attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Preparing Advance Directives
Each state government may regulate advance directives differently. Be sure you have materials for each state in which you may receive care. AARP lets you view and download state forms and instructions.
You may want to involve loved ones, health care providers, or lawyers as you prepare an advance directive. This ensures everyone completely understands what you have written, just as you intended it. You can change or cancel an advance directive at any time, as long as you are deemed sound of mind. Changes expressed in writing or verbally in a hospital typically supersede earlier directives.
Advance directives are important documents. You should keep signed originals safe, but accessible. Make photocopies and provide them to those who may become involved in your care: loved ones, clergy, health care providers, or hospital or skilled nursing care staff. Some organizations will allow you to store your advance directives online to make information available to caregivers and health care providers at any time or place.
For more information on advance directives, contact your local hospital, assisted living care community or skilled nursing care center.