Advanced Directives

You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare. This includes the right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatment. But what if you are unable to express your wishes?   You have the opportunity right now to make some decisions ahead of time.   By completing your advance directives, you can make your wishes known.  All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws regarding advance directives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an advance directive?
A: An advance directive is a written document that explains the healthcare you want to receive if you cannot make your own decisions.  There are two kinds of advance directives:  Living Wills & Durable Power of Attorney (sometimes called Healthcare Power of Attorney).

Q: What is a living will?
A: A living will lets you state in advance what kind of care you would want or not want if there comes a time when you cannot make these decisions for yourself.

Q: What is a durable power of attorney sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney?
A: A durable power of attorney for healthcare is used to appoint a person you trust to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot make your own decisions. This person is called a proxy or healthcare agent.

Q: Do I have to have an advance directive?
A: No.  But if questions arise about the kind of medical treatment you want and you cannot speak for yourself, a Durable Power of Attorney can resolve this issue.

Q. What will happen if I don't have an Advance Directive? 
A. If you cannot speak for yourself, your doctor will generally look to your family or friends for decisions about your healthcare. But if your doctor or your healthcare facility is unsure or if your family members cannot agree, they may have to ask the court to appoint a person (called a guardian) to make those decisions for you.

Q. When do my Advance Directives go into effect? 
A. It only takes effect when you can no longer make your own healthcare decisions. If you are able to give "informed consent," your healthcare providers will rely on you and not on your advance directives.

Q: What is an "informed consent?"
A: The law provides everyone with the right to be fully informed of healthcare issues that have the potential to affect their lives.  As part of the informed consent process, the healthcare provider must tell individuals about the risks and benefits of certain actions or treatments, and about the risk of not having treatment. 

Q: Why should I have an Advance Directive?
A: Many people have strong feelings about the kind of medical care they would like to receive or refuse in certain circumstances.  These documents allow you to clearly state your feelings. 

Q: What things should I consider?
A: Who would you like to make medical decisions for you?  How do you feel about ventilators, surgery, CPR, drugs or tube feedings if you were to become terminally ill?  What kind of medical treatment would you want if you had a severe stroke or other medical condition that made you dependant on others for all your care?  What sort of mental, physical, or social abilities are important for you to enjoy living?  Do you want to receive every treatment your care-givers recommend?

Q: Where can I find a form to complete my Advance Directives (this is for North Carolina)?

Q: Where can I find more information about Advance Directives?