Advance Directives

An advance directive allows you to direct what will happen to you in a medical emergency or if you are too sick to make decisions for yourself. Advance directives can cover everything from whether you want to be resuscitated to what treatments or devices should or should not be used on you.

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What Are Advance Directives?

In a medical emergency, or if you are so ill or injured that you are incapable of making decisions for yourself, an advance directive is an option to guide your treatments.

An advance directive, a common part of estate planning, is a legal document that you can use to ensure that your medical treatment proceeds the way you desire.

These documents, which can take several different forms, serve as a directive for your doctor and health care provider on your treatment.

An advance directive covers several topics, like whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops, if you want a breathing machine or tube feeding used and if you want your organs donated if you die.

Advance directives are an effective way to ensure that you, your family and your medical team agree in a critical moment where you may not be able to speak for yourself.

You do not need to have a condition or disease at present to make an advance directive part of your retirement planning.

Where To Get an Advance Directive
  • Your attorney
  • Your doctor or health care provider
  • Your state health department

Since an advance directive is a legal document, it can vary depending on your state. Find the advance directive form for your state here.

Types of Advance Directives

There are several types of advance directives that can prioritize different areas of your health care and be useful to you in different situations. The two main types are:

  • A living will
  • Durable power of attorney

Living Will

A living will can be used when you are dying or have permanently lost consciousness. Living wills specify which types of medical care in those situations that you do or do not want to receive, like if you would want a breathing machine or dialysis machine if it becomes medically necessary.

The document lets you choose in advance which procedures you do and do not want if you are dying or in a medical emergency.

According to, two physicians must confirm that you are not in a state where you can make your own decisions before the living will can go into effect.

Durable Power of Attorney

The other most common option for an advance directive is durable power of attorney. This document allows you to name a health care proxy.

If you are too sick or injured to make decisions about your health, then the person you named as a proxy would be able to make those decisions for you.

A proxy can be a family member or someone who is in line with your thinking and aware of what medical decisions you would prefer.

Other Types and Options

There are other types of advance directives and options available to you as well. You could opt for a do not resuscitate order, which means that you don’t want your doctor to attempt to revive you if something happens.

You can also specify if you want to be an organ or tissue donor or if you want your brain donated.

Another option other than an advance directive is a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. The POLST form has specific instructions and orders for a medical emergency, like if you should be taken to a hospital or have CPR administered.

A POLST form must be signed by your doctor or someone else from your health care team.

An EMT cannot use an advance directive but can use a POLST form.

Last Modified: August 27, 2021

5 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, January 12). Advance directives. Retrieved from
  2. Cancer.Org. (2019, May 13). Types of Advance Directives. Retrieved from
  3. National Institute on Aging. (2018, January 15). Advance Care Planning: Health Care Directives. Retrieved from
  4. AARP. (n.d.). Advance Directive Forms. Retrieved from Cancer.Org. (2019, May 13). Types of Advance Directives. Retrieved from
  5. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Advance directives and long-term care. Retrieved from