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What is an Advance Medical Directive?

By Amy Hunter
Updated May 17, 2024
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An advance medical directive is the name given to any of the three forms of documentation that are drawn up to help protect the rights of someone should he or she become incapacitated. To provide the most comprehensive coverage, it is recommended that all three documents, a living will, durable power of attorney, and a health care proxy, be completed. While it may seem like each form includes similar information, they each have a different purpose.

The most well known portion of an advance medical directive is the living will. A living will specifies what type of medical treatment the person would like to receive should he or she become incapacitated. The document can be general, simply stating that the person wishes for all possible extraordinary measures or no extraordinary measures at all. The document can also be very detailed, and include information on the levels of medical intervention desired, including pain relief, nutrition and hydration support, as well as the use of life supporting equipment, such as a ventilator.

A durable power of attorney allows the person named in the document to handle personal matters, including banking, bill paying, and signing up for disability. This piece of the advance medical directive is very important, because someone who incapacitated may require help navigating the support network of social security and disability, and even a short disability can be devastating financially. Having a durable power of attorney can alleviate a great deal of stress that surrounds family members when someone is suffering from a long-term illness.

The final document included in an advance medical directive is the health care proxy. The health care proxy is a legal document that designates a particular person to make all health care decisions for the person mentioned in the proxy. With a health care proxy in place, the person named as the proxy would make choices about health care as though they were making them for themselves. A health care proxy covers the many day-to-day decisions that would be difficult to include in a living will.

An advance medical directive is a complicated set of documents. There are kits available for preparing the forms without legal assistance. Not all kits are valid in all states or countries. A family lawyer can draw up a set of documents for an advance medical directive as well, and can also provide advice on the potential consequences of each option.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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