Advanced Medical Directives

Advanced Medical Directive

An advanced medical directive is also known as a living will. Its most important function is to nominate an agent to make health care decisions if you are incapacitated. Your spouse is almost always first in line, usually followed by another close family member. This agent can be the same person as your durable power of attorney, but it doesn’t have to be. Many people, for example, choose a son to manage their finances if they are incapacitated, but a daughter to make health care decisions.

After nominating an agent, you may also give more specific directions regarding your healthcare wishes. You may give or withhold consent to participate in medical trials; you may give instructions on how long you wish to remain on life support, or under what conditions you would like life support withdrawn; and there are other instructions you may leave as well. These additional instructions are entirely optional, and most people are satisfied with just leaving these decisions up to their nominated agent.

An advanced medical directive is different from a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) request. A DNR is a set of specific instructions for healthcare providers, which may be on file with your doctor or a nursing home, or may be posted in your home for emergency providers to see. Generally, a physician must prepare this type of request or order. You can find more information on a DNR and a related order (POLST) here: