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Why Advance Directives Are Important

What are advance directives and why are they important.

Taken together, the advance directive and letter of instruction give your family a road map for your wishes.

Getting Started

Consult an attorney for advice on the best way to tailor advance directives to your specific wishes, but you can find the components of your personal road map without ever leaving home. Even though advance directives are legal documents, it's not necessary for a lawyer to write them. If you would like to prepare your own, you can use our online resource to find forms specific to the state where you live.

Five Wishes, offered by Aging with Dignity, is a good model for advance directives. It's considered a legal advance directive in 42 states, and people in other states often use it as a starting point.

Since the letter of instruction is not a legal document, its contents are entirely up to you. If you need some help, AARP has suggestions for what to include in each section.

Seeking Guidance

An advantage of having an attorney draw up the documents is that you then automatically have someone to review them—now and in the future—with an eye to keeping them current if there are changes in regulations. Lawyers often charge fixed rates for preparing documents, so it should be fairly easy to find an affordable lawyer. You may also want to consult your health-care provider or another trusted source if you have questions about life-sustaining treatments or other medical terms found in the documents.  

What's Next?

Let family members know your wishes. Although it may be difficult or awkward to start the conversation, sharing your concern for your loved ones and communicating your beliefs and values can help set the right tone for the dialogue.

Keep a copy of your road map in a safe accessible place. Tell family members where to find it should an emergency arise.

Go over the road map with your designated health-care agent (named in your health-care power of attorney) and your back-up agent. Discuss any concerns, and make sure they have copies of all your documents.

Discuss advance directives with your doctor, and have a copy of them placed in your medical record. If your doctor seems uncomfortable following your wishes, consider changing health-care providers.

Review your road map every few years. These are tough decisions, and your views may shift as your health or circumstances change.

Planning for the unknown is never easy, but it's a gift to your loved ones. By having a road map, you can make sure you're comfortable no matter what direction your journey takes. 


For more information about planning for long-term care, visit Decide to plan now for long-term care, create a plan that works for you, and share it with your loved ones. Let AARP help you Decide. Create. Share.SM


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