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Writing an Advance Directive - Preparing an Advance Directive

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If you've decided to write an advance directive, you've taken an important step to make sure that your health care wishes are met.

When you write your advance directive, think about the kinds of treatments you do or don't want to receive if you get seriously hurt or ill. If you have questions and need help to get started, see what things to include in an advance directive for some ideas.

Involve your family, your health care agent, and your doctor as you write your advance directive so they'll know what you want. If something happens that you didn't plan for, they'll have a better idea of how you would want to handle it.

There are many choices to make when you write your advance directive. Some of these have to do with whether you want certain treatments.

To help you decide which medical treatments you do or don't want to receive, see:

Should I Receive Artificial Hydration and Nutrition?
dplink.gif Should I Receive CPR and Mechanical Ventilation?
Should I Stop Kidney Dialysis?
dplink.gif Should I Stop Treatment That Prolongs My Life?
Turning Off Your ICD

These are tough choices to make, but you don't have to make them alone. Look to your family, your doctor, and your friends for help and support.

Write down your wishes

As you prepare an advance directive, you'll need to follow these four important steps:

  1. Get the living will and medical power of attorney forms for your state.
    • Forms are different in each state, so be sure to get the right ones for where you live.
    • You can get the forms in a doctor's office, hospital, law office, state or local office for the aging, senior center, or nursing home.
    • You can also get the forms online from Caring Connections at, or by calling 1-800-658-8898.
    • Your state may offer an online registry. This is a place you can store your advance directive online so authorized health care providers can find it right away.
    • Aging With Dignity has a form called "Five Wishes" that can be used in many states. It combines a living will and a medical power of attorney in one form. It also lets you write down how you want people to treat you and what you want your family to know. You can order the "Five Wishes" form online at or by calling 1-888-594-7437.
  2. Choose a health care agent. This should be a person you trust to make decisions for you. For more information, see the topic Choosing a Health Care Agent.
  3. Fill out the forms, and have them witnessed as your state requires.
  4. Keep the original form in a safe but accessible place, such as in your desk with other important papers. Let your loved ones know where you keep your forms. Don't keep it in a safe deposit box unless others can get to it. On each copy, write down where the original form is kept. Give copies to:
    • The person that you choose for your agent and any alternate agents.
    • Your lawyer.
    • Your doctor or doctors.
    • Family members.
    • Any other person who may be called if you have a medical emergency.

You can change or cancel your advance directive at any time. Just fill out new forms and get rid of your existing forms. Or you can just let your family, your doctor, and your health care agent know about the change. If you change or create new forms, give everyone an updated copy. Don't just cross out or add new details unless it's only to change your address or phone number.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    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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