Peace of Mind: The Importance of Having an Advanced Directive

Have you thought about the type of care and medical treatment you might want should you ever become unable to make decisions or speak for yourself? It’s hard for most of us to imagine this scenario, especially when we are young and healthy. However, you never know when you may experience a medical emergency. A car accident or sudden illness can leave you incapacitated and in need of serious medical care. Advanced medical planning helps you prepare for the unexpected while you are well and able to make difficult decisions for yourself.

Advanced directives

An Advanced Directive consists of legal documents that put your medical wishes in writing and allows you to choose someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you. These documents offer peace of mind that, should the unthinkable happen, you’ve made your wishes known. Preparing an Advanced Directive is also an important gift to your loved ones. They will rest easier knowing they are making medical decisions based on what you do or do not want. The two main components of an Advanced Directive are a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney.

An advanced directive allows you to document your wishes for medical care should you ever be unable to

Living will. A Living Will is the document in which you specify your wishes concerning medical treatment. Your doctor will only invoke your Living Will if you are unable to make your own decisions and you have the medical conditions specified in your state’s living will law (for example, you are unconscious or terminally ill). Your Living Will is where you can say, for example, whether you want CPR if your heart stops, a breathing tube if you can’t breathe on your own or dialysis for kidney failure.

Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA). A MPOA is a legal document in which you designate a specific person to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you cannot speak for yourself. Your MPOA can be your spouse, parent, child, sibling or friend. That person should clearly understand your wishes and be willing to advocate for you, even if they disagree with your decisions.

You can obtain both of these documents from your doctor or your local agency on aging. If you do not have an Advanced Directive, you may receive care that you don’t want, especially if your family members are not available or don’t know your wishes. In the absence of an Advanced Directive, some states appoint a legal guardian to make decisions for you. By not planning ahead, you risk relinquishing all control over your medical care if you are in a comma or otherwise unable to communicate.

Who needs an advanced directive?

You do! More than 25 percent of older adults face important questions about medical treatment but are not capable of making decisions, says the National Institute on Aging. However, advanced medical planning is NOT just for the elderly or seriously ill. At age 18, you are legally an adult and responsible for your own medical decisions. ALL adults at every age should be prepared just in case. Don’t worry if your health situation or preferences change. You can revise your Advanced Directive documents any time.

After completing your Living Will and MPOA:

  • Store them in a safe but accessible place.
  • Give a copy of your medical power of attorney to your primary care physician.
  • Carry an advanced directives wallet card.
  • Review these documents periodically in case you change your wishes.


Additional optional documents

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): An order not to restore your heart rhythm if it stops or beats unevenly while you are in the hospital

Do Not Intubate (DNI): An order not to put you on a breathing machine if you cannot breath on your own

Organ and Tissue Donation: Gives your permission to donate your organs to someone who needs them in the event of your death


Action Items:

Complete a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. A Living Will is different from a Final Will and Testament. Every adult should have both documents.

Living Will—outlines your medical wishes if you are ill or injured and cannot speak for yourself.

Final Will and Testament—directs how to distribute your assets and property upon your death.