Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions

Living wills and other advance directives describe your preferences regarding end-of-life care. Because unexpected situations can happen at any age, all adults need advance directives.

Living wills and other advance directives describe your preferences regarding treatment if you're faced with a serious accident or illness, states the Mayo Clinic. These legal documents speak for you when you're not able to speak for yourself — for instance, if you're in a coma.

Living wills and other advance directives aren't just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it's important for all adults to have advance directives.

Advance directives: More than just living wills

Advance directives are written instructions regarding your medical care preferences. Your family and doctors will consult your advance directives if you're unable to make your own health care decisions. Having written instructions can help reduce confusion or disagreement.

Advance directives include:

  • Living will. This written, legal document spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you want and don't want, such as mechanical breathing (respiration and ventilation), tube feeding or resuscitation. In some states, living wills may be called health care declarations or health care directives.
  • Medical or health care power of attorney (POA). The medical POA is a legal document that designates an individual — referred to as your health care agent or proxy — to make medical decisions for you in the event that you're unable to do so. However, it is different from a power of attorney authorizing someone to make financial transactions for you.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order. This is a request to not have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. Advance directives do not have to include a DNR order, and you don't have to have an advance directive to have a DNR order. Your doctor can put a DNR order in your medical chart.
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