What is an Advance Directive?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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An advance directive is a legal document used in health care. It can be either a living will or a power of attorney and is used in case you are too ill to make decisions regarding your medical care. If you are too ill or unable to communicate your medical decisions, then the advance directive will legally transfer the authority for your medical decision-making to a person you have previously designated to do so. If you become well enough to make you own decisions, then the advance directive will end and you will once again make your own choices.

There is no need for a lawyer in order to complete an advance directive, but you can choose to have one if you wish. Anyone over the age of 18 can make an advance directive. This may seem unnecessary at such a young age, but people can become sick at any time in their life and it is important to set out your wishes should that happen.

In the advance directive, you will indicate a person to make your medical decisions for you. A power of attorney stipulates the identity of the person designated to make these health care decisions. This could be on a temporary basis until you are able to make such decisions for yourself again.


Many advance directives combine a power of attorney for health care and a living will. A living will stipulates your directions to health-care providers for the end-of-life treatment you do or do not want. This will only happen if you have a terminal illness, cannot communicate what you want or are near death. The power of attorney stipulates that a designated person has the authority to make business and financial decisions for you.

The power of attorney document can also stipulate whether or not any decisions are to be made when you are incapable of making decisions due to illness. This is known as a durable power of attorney for health care and should not be confused with the financial power of attorney. The two can be combined into one legal document if required.

The person that the advance directive covers is called the principal. There are certain stipulations that can be included in the directive, including the kind of care that the principal wishes to receive from doctors in the event of illness, the approval of different treatment options or organ donation in the event of death. Remember, the advance directive is not set in stone and can be changed at any time by the principal while they are still capable of making their own decisions.


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