How to Create an Advance Directive

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An advance health care directive is a legal document that details your wishes about end-of-life medical issues. Any person over the age of 18 should create an advance directive to be used in case of an accident or terminal illness. Advanced directives allow you to create a living will, appoint a medical power of attorney, instate a do-not-resuscitate order and opt for or against organ donation.

Obtain advance health care directive forms from your physician, an attorney, your state health care association or a website that offers legal forms. Create your advance directive from the state in which you currently reside and consider local laws about these documents because forms can vary from state to state.

Choose a family member or close friend to be your medical power of attorney. Designate this person using the power of attorney form in your advance directive. Talk to your medical power of attorney to ensure that she feels comfortable making end-of-life decisions for you.

Talk to your family members and religious or spiritual leaders about your end-of-life choices. Discuss whether you wish to be resuscitated, kept on a mechanical ventilator for breathing, nourished by a feeding tube or undergo dialysis. Consider the length of time you wish to be treated using these methods if you are terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state.

Complete the living will form with your wishes for end-of-life care. Specify the type and duration of treatment you consider acceptable. Fill out a do not resuscitate order if you do not wish to undergo resuscitation in the event of a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem.

Sign the document with a witness present. The witness typically cannot be a relative, spouse or other individual who may benefit from your estate. Witnesses must be at least 18 years old. Notarize your advance directive if required in your state.

Give a copy of your advance directive to your personal physician, the person you appointed as your medical power of attorney, family members and anyone else mentioned in the document. Your advance directive needs to be easily accessible for family members if you are incapacitated, so instruct them to keep it in a safe place.

Re-examine your advance directive every two years. Your wishes may change over time and under different life circumstances, so update your documents accordingly. Keep your personal physician and medical power of attorney apprised of your wishes so they can execute your decisions accordingly.


  • An advance directive is a legally binding document. Carefully consider your desires and beliefs before completing the forms.


  • An advance directive can be revoked at any time. If your wishes change, notify your physician and family members. Fill out a new advance directive form and formally revoke the old document in writing.



About the Author

Aurora Harklute has been writing since 2009. She works with people with depression and other mental illnesses and specializes in physical and mental health issues in aging. Harklute holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and physiology from Marquette University and a Master of Arts in cognitive psychology from the University of Chicago.