Once you’ve talked with others and made your decisions, formalize them in an advance directive. In general, there are two main types of advance directives: a living will and power of attorney for health care, also called a health care proxy.
A living will gives instructions to your health care team about your medical care preferences. This written legal document usually covers end-of-life care in detail. It typically spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you want and don’t want, such as mechanical breathing, tube feeding or resuscitation.
It can be hard to cover every possible circumstance in a living will. So it’s also a good idea to designate a person who has power of attorney for you in health care situations. Using your living will and previous conversations as a guide, that person has the legal authority to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself.
To create a legal advance directive, check with the requirements in your state, as they differ somewhat among the states. Health care organizations often have advance directive forms available, so you can ask your doctor’s office or hospital for the forms you need.
When you make thoughtful choices about your medical care preferences, talk about these preferences, and document them in an advance directive, you not only help to ensure that you get the care you want, but you also relieve stress and guilt in the people closest to you if they ever need to make tough medical decisions for you. An advance directive really is a gift you give yourself, as well as your loved ones. — Ericka Tung, M.D., Primary Care Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.