Advance Directives

What are advance directives?
An advance directive refers to your oral and written instructions about your future medical care in the event you become unable to speak for yourself. Each state regulates the use of advance directives differently. There are two types of advance directives, a living will and a medical power of attorney.

What is a living will?
A living will is a type of advance directive in which you put in writing your wishes about medical treatment, should you become unable to communicate at the end of your life. State law defines when the living will goes into effect, and may limit the treatment to which the living will applies. Your right to accept or refuse treatment is protected by constitutional and common law.

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What is a medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney is a document that enables you to appoint someone you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you cannot make those decisions yourself. This type of advance directive may also be called a "healthcare proxy" or "appointment of a healthcare agent." The person you appoint may be called your healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact, or proxy. In many states, the person you appoint through a medical power of attorney is authorized to speak if you are unable to make your own medical decisions, at any time-not only at the end of life.

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Why do I need an advance directive?
Advance directives give you a voice in decisions about your medical care when you are unable to do so. As long as you are able to express your own decisions, your advance directives will not be used.

What laws govern the use of advance directives?
Both federal and state laws govern the use of advance directives. The Patient Self-Determination Act requires health care facilities which receive Medicare and Medicaid funds to inform patients of their rights to execute advance directives.