An advance directive is a written document that indicates an individual’s choices regarding medical treatment. It must be signed in order to be binding.

Types of Advance Directives

There are typically two types of advance directives:

Living Will

A living will is a document that tells health care professionals what type of life-prolonging procedures to perform if someone has a terminal condition or is in a vegetative state.  A living will is different than a will.  It specifically deals with issues surrounding your medical care while you are still living.

Medical Power of Attorney

This is a legal document that allows an individual to choose a person to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become temporarily or permanently unable to make those decisions on their own.  It is essential that you relay your wishes to the person you designate and give them a copy of your living will.

When Does an Advance Directive Go Into Effect

An advance directive goes into effect when the individual is no longer able to make their own decisions due to some mental incapacity.  If the condition is temporary, the individual resumes making decisions on their own behalf once the temporary condition is resolved.

Some common situations which temporarily or permanently cause a person to be unable to make their own medical decisions include:

  • Coma,
  • Stroke,
  • Moderate or severe dementia,
  • Severe illness requiring intubation and resulting in the inability to communicate,
  • Severe medical conditions such as advanced liver or kidney failure, and
  • Traumatic brain injury.

Reasons to have an Advance Directive

An advance directive is not mandatory; it is entirely up to each individual whether or not they wish to have one.  There are several concepts you should consider before deciding if you want to create an advance directive.

When to Consider an Advance Directive

You should seriously consider an advance directive if:

  • You want your wishes to be followed when you are no longer able to communicate.
  • You want to ensure that your wishes regarding the use of life-support machines or other life-prolonging procedures are followed if you are suffering from a terminal illness.
  • If you go into cardiac arrest after suffering a long-term, end-state condition and you want to be sure that any CPR or other heroic measures will or will not be performed according to your preferences.

You Remain in Control

No doctor or other health care professional can force you to undergo procedures you do not want after you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself.

If you do not have an advance directive in place and are unable to communicate, health care professionals will look to your next of kin to make decisions on your behalf.

Facts Regarding Advance Directives

  • You do not require an attorney to generate an advance directive.
  • Individuals can designate information regarding organ donation.
  • The laws vary from state to state regarding advance directives.
  • Give copies of your advance directive to any individual who may be asked to make decisions on your behalf in a medical emergency.
  • Without an advance directive, emergency personnel are legally obligated to do everything possible to revive the individual.
  • A living will does not mean withholding pain medications or other comfort measures. It is a way to express your wishes regarding medical treatment and to die with dignity. Pain medication and other comfort measures will be given whenever needed to minimize suffering.
  • A living will can be reversed at any time.
  • Before health care professionals use your living will to guide their medical decisions, two physicians must confirm that you are no longer able to make your medical decisions and that you are in a medical condition that is specified by state law as a terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness.


If you are interested in completing a living will, the best place to start is with Estate Attorney.