Advance Directive: A Guide to Medical Decisions You May Need to Make

Why It Matters:

  • An advance directive is a legally binding statement often composed of two documents: a living will and healthcare proxy.
  • A living will determines the types of life support treatments you either want or don't want in a medical emergency.
  • A healthcare proxy is permitted to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you're unable to do so.

Everplans tkc.profilePicture Written by: Everplans
March 07, 2018

5 Min readClock Icon

When you can’t make health decisions for yourself, this is the north star that guides your loved ones and doctors in the right direction.

The components of an advance directive

This legally binding statement for how you would like to be treated at the end of your life is made up of two parts:

1. Naming a healthcare proxy, who can advocate for your care when you may not be able to.

2. Creating a living will, stating the types of medical treatments you do and do not want at the end of your life.


Choose a healthcare proxy

Also known as a healthcare power of attorney, this person can make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you no longer be able to do so. Fill out the paperwork with witnesses, and get the forms notarized, if necessary.


Decisions a healthcare proxy can make, summed up in eight bullet points:

  • Choices about medical care, including medical tests, medicine, or surgery.
  • The right to request or decline life support.
  • Choices about pain management, including authorization or refusal of medication or procedures.
  • Admission to an assisted living facility, hospital, hospice, or nursing home.
  • Choices about where to seek medical treatment, including the right to move you to another facility, hospital, or state.
  • The right to see and approve release of your medical records.
  • The option to take legal action on your behalf in order to advocate for your healthcare rights and wishes.
  • The right to apply for Medicare, Medicaid, or other programs or insurance benefits on your behalf.

Where there’s a living will there’s a way

A living will is a roadmap for the important player in your life: The doctors use this as a guide to manage your care, and your healthcare proxy uses it to make sure what you want is being fulfilled.

This lets you choose the types of medical treatments you want and the types you don’t want. It focuses on life-support treatments and medical procedures, devices, or medications to keep you alive when your body might not be able to keep itself alive on its own. Examples: if you’re suffering from a terminal or progressive illness, if you’re ill and unlikely to recover, or if you’re in a coma (persistent vegetative state).

Enough talk, let’s do this!

  1. Obtain your state's living will or advance directive form here.
  2. Indicate whether you would like to receive life-support treatments at the end of life or whether you would not like to receive life-support treatments at the end of life.
  3. Have a witness, who must be over 18 and can’t be your healthcare proxy, countersign the document.
  4. If necessary, get the forms notarized at a local post office, bank, or government office.
  5. Discuss with a qualified estate planning attorney in your state.

When a living will goes into effect

A living will is only used if you are deemed incapacitated and incompetent by at least one doctor. If you are merely incapacitated, as in a situation where you may not be able to speak but are likely to recover, it won't go into effect (though this may be a situation in which your healthcare proxy can act on your behalf). So long as you are mentally competent and can speak or communicate on your own behalf, it won't be used.

How to complete a living will

Each person must create their own living will; no one can create one on behalf of another person. In addition, a person who creates one must be of sound mind in order for the living will to be legally binding.

Evaluating life support treatments

All life-support treatments have their upside and downside. For each treatment, consider the following questions, which you should discuss with your doctor:

  • What purpose does this treatment serve?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Does this treatment usually improve my overall health, or does it simply extend my life?
  • What type of medical equipment will be used and how will it affect my body (examples: ventilator, feeding tube, dialysis, antibiotics).

Final thoughts

If you have any questions or concerns, you should definitely discuss them with a doctor or medical professional, as well as a qualified estate planning attorney in your state. These can be very difficult decisions to make and shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the same time, these decisions shouldn’t be delayed because no one knows what the future holds.

After you’ve completed your advance directive, you should keep it in an accessible location so it can be found in case of an emergency.

This article is provided by Everplans — a life and legacy planning company dedicated to transforming the way people get their families organized. For more information, visit: everplans.com

Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide tax, investment, or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Things to Consider:
  • Complete these documents so your family won't have to bear the burden of making difficult medical decisions on your behalf.
  • You can find every state’s advance directive form on Everplans.com.
  • Make sure your advance directive is stored in an accessible location so it can be used in the event of a medical emergency.

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