Advance directive is a general term used to describe both a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. These two legal documents protect your right to refuse medical treatment you do not want, or to request treatment you do want, in the event you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.
A Living Will allows you to state your wishes about medical care in the event that you can no longer make your own decisions. This becomes effective when your attending doctor determines you are incapable of making decisions about the use of life-sustaining treatment and that you are either in a persistent vegetative state or in a terminal condition.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare allows you to name someone to make healthcare decisions for you. This goes into effect when your doctor and a consulting physician certify in writing that you are incapable of making healthcare decisions, and document the cause and nature of your incapacity. The person you appoint to make decisions about your medical care is called an attorney-in-fact. Your attorney-in-fact might be a family member or close family friend whom you trust to make serious decisions. It is important your attorney-in-fact clearly understand your wishes in detail and confirm that he or she agrees to act on your behalf. You can appoint a second person as your alternate attorney-in-fact. The alternate would step in if the first person was unable, unwilling, or unavailable to act for you.
The law requires you have your Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare witnessed. You can do this in either of two ways: have your signature witnessed by a notary public or sign your document in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document to show that they know you and believe you to be of sound mind. Persons who can not be witnesses for you are: persons who are related to you, who will inherit from you, or for whom you are financially responsible.
You may revoke your Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare at any time.
Your Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare are important legal documents. Keep the original signed documents in a secure but accessible place. Do not put the original documents in a safe deposit box or any other security box that would keep others from having access to them. Give photocopies of the signed originals to your attorney-in-fact, doctor(s), family, close friends, clergy and anyone else who might become involved in your healthcare.
If you enter a hospital or nursing home, have photocopies of your documents placed in your medical record. Be sure to talk to your attorney-in-fact and alternate, doctor(s), clergy, and family and friends about your wishes concerning medical treatment. Discuss your wishes with them often, particularly if your medical condition changes.