What are advance directives?

Older senior couple sitting together looking at a computer as go through advance care planning.

An advance directive is a legal document that provides written instructions for the care of your health in the event you become temporarily or permanently incapable of making or communicating these decisions.

What to consider

Documents and issues that could be part of your advanced care planning include:

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders
  • Living wills
  • Power of Attorney (POA) for health care
  • Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for finances, property and businesses
  • Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
  • Hospice care preferences
  • Organ donation
  • Funeral preferences, and any plots or funeral costs you may have already paid for
  • Plans for guardianship of your children
  • Account information for banks, computers and life insurance policies
  • Religious practices you want followed
  • Decisions related to specific conditions, diseases, terminal illnesses and life-sustaining treatment options

Think you don't need to spell out your end-of-life wishes?

Think again.

Click here to learn why advance care planning is so important, no matter your age or health.

The more information you include in your advance directive, the easier it will be for your family to honor your wishes. This will also help lessen the stress on your family in a time of crisis.

Tips on talking to your family

Assure your family that nothing’s wrong, you just want to make sure you all understand each other’s wishes if or when the time comes to make those decisions.

If you have a living will or durable power of attorney for health care, discuss what is written in it with your family and why you made the choices you did.

Talk about the things that are important to you. For example:

  • If something happens to me, I want my sister to take care of my children.
  • I want to live as long as possible, even if I’m hooked up to machines or drastic measures have to be taken.
  • I don’t want to be hooked up to machines, or have drastic measures taken to prolong my life at any cost.
  • If I get ill, it’s really important to me to fight it and have treatment options.
  • If I were sick, I would rather have quality of life over quantity of life.
  • I want to be surrounded by my friends and family if I am sick or dying.
  • I don’t want to die the way my mother did, unable to communicate or move.
  • It’s important that my faith is respected in my treatment.

Know that your wishes for your own health may differ from theirs. That’s OK — use this opportunity to talk about your reasons for making those decisions.

Click here for more resources from our friends at The Conversation Project.

Every state has unique laws regarding how your advance directives are drawn up and filed. You can learn more from your doctor, attorney, social worker or county human services office. The time to make these decisions is when you know the facts and are able to make your own choices.

Have questions? Not sure where to start?

We can help find resources in your area.

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