Advance directives are written medical guidance. They describe the kinds of care you want to receive if something happens that leaves you unable to communicate your wishes.
An advance directive lets doctors and family know the kinds of care you do (and don’t) want if you:
- Lose consciousness
- Can no longer make health care decisions
- Worry that your mental health will decline and affect your ability to make care decisions in the future
- Cannot tell your doctor or family what kind of care you want for another reason
When you get one: All adults should have an advance directive. Serious illnesses and accidents can come on suddenly. It’s scary to think about, but advance directives help your loved ones make care decisions if the worst should happen.
Living wills and durable power of attorney
In Washington State, there are two common types of advance directives: living wills and durable power of attorney. These are specific kinds of advance directives that cover certain needs:
Health care directive
A health care directive (also known as a “living will”) is a set of written instructions about the health care that you wish to receive at the end of your life.
When you get one: Older people, as well as those with terminal illnesses, may want a health care directive or living will.
- The Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form is an option for anybody who has a serious health condition and needs to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment. Unlike the other directives on this list, the POLST form contains specific medical orders.
Durable power of attorney
Durable power of attorney names another person who can make medical decisions for you if you’re not able to make them yourself. This form is a legal document and must be signed by a notary public.
When you get one: Durable power of attorney is more flexible than a living will, since it doesn’t just relate to end-of-life care. Get one if:
- You have a person in your life you trust to make medical decisions for you in case you are not able to.
- You’re dealing with a condition that may or may not impact your ability to tell doctors your wishes.
If you need or want both a health care directive and durable power of attorney, you can get both.
Your advance directive rights and resources
You have certain rights relating to advance directives:
- The right to make your own decisions about your medical care.
- The right to accept or refuse surgical or medical treatment.
- The right to have an advance directive.
- The right to cancel an advance directive at any time.
Your doctor or hospital can give you more information about advance directives if you ask. You can also learn more by contacting Community Health Network of Washington at 1-866-907-1906 (TTY: 711) Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.