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The Basics of Advance Directives

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How Do I Make an Advance Directive?

Anyone over 18 who’s of sound mind can make one. You can get a form from your doctor or simply write down your wishes. If you’d like help from a lawyer, that’s an option, too. For a directive to be legal, you need to have two adult witnesses or get it notarized.

You can cancel an advance directive at any time. Ways to do that include:

  • Tear up the document.
  • Say aloud to witnesses that you want to cancel it.
  • Put your wishes in writing.

Many hospitals and clinics will ask you or your family if you have an advance directive when you’re admitted for treatment. It’s also noted in your medical chart. At the same time, doctors or nurses who witness you canceling a directive will also note it in your chart.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders

Advance directives aren’t “do not resuscitate orders.” Doctors write these orders to reflect a person’s wishes not to have CPR if he’s not breathing or if his heart stops, or because the person wouldn’t benefit from these life-saving measures. Even if you have an advance directive, you may want treatment that can save you from a sudden, treatable problem, like a heart attack.

Beyond the Paperwork

Talk with your family and your doctor about your wishes for treatment and end-of-life care, too. 

Make sure you understand your options and how to ensure they’ll be followed when it’s time.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 27, 2014
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