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What is an advance directive?

En español | Advance directives are documents that communicate your medical preferences in the event you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Putting your wishes in writing can prevent family disagreements and spare those close to you from the anxiety of having to guess what you would like.

There are two types of advance directives:

1) A living will spells out what types of medical treatment you want at the end of life, if you are unable to speak for yourself. It tells medical professionals a person’s wishes regarding specific decisions, such as whether to accept mechanical ventilation.

2) A health care power of attorney appoints someone to make health care decisions — not just decisions regarding life-prolonging treatments — on one’s behalf. The appointed health care agent, also called an attorney-in-fact or proxy, becomes your spokesman and advocates on medical treatments you set out in the document if you can no longer communicate.

You do not need to work with an attorney to create advance directives, but some states require that you sign the documents in the presence of one or more witnesses. Once the documents are completed, your health care agent and physician should have copies.

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