What kind of medical care would you want if you were too ill or hurt to express your wishes? Advance directives are legal documents that allow you to spell out your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. They give you a way to tell your wishes to family, friends, and health care professionals and to avoid confusion later on.
A living will tells which treatments you want if you are dying or permanently unconscious. You can accept or refuse medical care. You might want to include instructions on
- The use of dialysis and breathing machines
- If you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops
- Tube feeding
- Organ or tissue donation
A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that names your health care proxy. Your proxy is someone you trust to make health decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
NIH: National Cancer Institute
- Advance Care Planning (National Institute on Aging)
- Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders (American Academy of Family Physicians) Available in Spanish
- End-of-Life Decisions (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) - PDF
- Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- Put It in Writing: Questions and Answers on Advance Directives (American Hospital Association) - PDF
- Advance Care Planning for Serious Illness (Administration for Community Living) - PDF
- Advance Care Planning: Medical Issues to Consider (American Hospice Foundation)
- Healthcare Agents: Being One (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization)
- How to Decide (Department of Health and Human Services)
- Making Medical Decisions for a Loved One at the End of Life (American College of Physicians) - PDF
- Advance Directives (American Cancer Society)
- Advance Directives (National Cancer Institute) Available in Spanish
- Healthcare Agents: Four Quick Steps to Naming Someone to Speak4me (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization)
- Legal and Financial Planning for People with Alzheimer's Disease (National Institute on Aging)
- Psychiatric Advance Directives: Getting Started (National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives)
Statistics and Research
- Advance Care Planning: Preferences for Care at the End of Life (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Advance Directives (National Institutes of Health)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Forensic issues in medical evaluation: competency and end-of-life issues.
- Article: Response: Palliative cardiovascular care is not an oxymoron.
- Article: Advance directives, living wills, and futility in perioperative care.
- Advance Directives -- see more articles
- Living wills -- see more articles
- Glossary (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization)
Find an Expert
- Download Your State's Advance Directives (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) - PDF
- National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
- State by State Info (Psychiatric Advance Directives) (National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives)
Finance and Policy
- Eldercare at Home: Advanced Directives (AGS Foundation for Health in Aging)