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What is an Advance Directive?

An advance directive is a legal document that outlines your wishes for care at the end-of-life. It covers two main topics:

  1. Your living will: Your decisions on when to receive medical care and what type of care you would like to receive in specific situations. For example, would you want to receive life-prolonging care in a situation where you are unconscious and highly unlikely to regain consciousness?

  2. Your healthcare proxy: The person who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions on your own. This is also known as a medical power of attorney.

Why make an advance directive?

Decisions around end-of-life care are highly personal, and it’s not uncommon for people to be in situations where they are unable to actively make healthcare decisions for themselves near the ends of their lives (in a coma, for example).

If such a situation arises and you don’t have an advance directive, it is usually family members who will be asked to make these decisions on your behalf. These can be stressful (and divisive) decisions for family members to make if they are unsure as to what you would want, and you may also end up receiving care you wouldn’t want or not receiving care that you would.

How to make an advance directive

While a lawyer can assist you in putting together an advance directive, a lawyer isn’t required. In fact, you can put together your advance directive at home, using a website like Rocket Lawyer. It will take effect as soon as it’s been signed in front of the required witnesses.

What to do with your advance directive

Keep your signed original advance directive with your other important papers, and give copies of it to your physician, healthcare proxy and other close family members. Your advance directive won’t ever expire, so it’s a good idea to refer back to it every few years (and following any major medical changes) to ensure that you’re still happy with your plan. If you choose to update your advance directive, be sure to give new copies to everyone you shared the original one with. Updating your advance directive (or ensuring it's still what you want) from time to time is a good habit to get into.

Do advance directives work through out the US?

Advance directives are valid as a legal document, throughout the United States. At the same time, you may run into issues when using an advance directive across state lines. If you spend a significant amount of your time in multiple states, it's a good idea to have an advance directive for each of those states.

Do advance directives expire?

Advance directives do not expire and will remain in effect until you decide to update or change it. You cannot have more than one advance directive active at one time (in a single state).

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Last updated April 8, 2021
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