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Writing an Advance Directive - Basic Types of Advance Directives

An advance directive is a legal form that describes the kinds of medical care you want to receive if something happens to you and you can't speak for yourself. It tells your family and your doctor what to do if you're badly hurt or have a serious illness that keeps you from saying what you want.

The two main types of advance directives are a living will and a medical power of attorney.

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Living will

A living will makes clear the kinds of medical care you want to receive if you get seriously hurt or ill and can't make your own decisions. It describes your choices for care and how you want them carried out if you're near the end of your life or are in the hospital with a serious illness. If you get better and can speak for yourself again, you can stop or say "no" to treatment at any time. If you have a living will, your choices will be honored. A living will is also called a treatment directive.

Medical power of attorney

A medical power of attorney lets you name a person to make treatment decisions for you when you can't speak for yourself. This person is called a health care agent or health care proxy. Some states may limit what your health care agent can decide for you. In a few states, he or she can speak for you right away and at any time that you don't want to make choices for yourself. He or she can also use your living will and what he or she knows about you to help guide your care.

When you choose a health care agent, select a person you trust to make medical decisions for you. For more information, see the topic Choosing a Health Care Agent.

As long as you can still make your own decisions, your advance directive won't be used. You can change or cancel it at any time. Your health care agent will only make choices for you if you can't or don't want to decide for yourself.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 29, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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