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Advance Directives & Making Medical and Healthcare Decisions

Sometimes called advance care directives, these documents ensure that a one’s wishes will be carried out in the future.

Defined as “a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment,” advance directives, when properly signed and witnessed, will provide guidance for medical and health care decisions in the event the individual becomes incompetent and can no longer make such decisions.

Other Things to Know about Advance Directives

  • Advance directives are legal throughout the United States.
  • Governing laws vary so be sure to obtain an advance directive that complies with your state’s laws.
  • An attorney is not needed to complete an advance directive.
  • If one resides in more than one state, he or she should complete an advance directive for each state where he or she spends a significant amount of time.
  • There are no time limitations on advance directives. A signed advance directive remains in force until a new one is completed.
  • One should periodically review their advance directive to make sure it still reflects their desires. If it doesn’t, don’t try to amend it, simply complete a new one.
  • Paramedics and emergency medical technicians cannot recognize or honor a living will or medical power of attorney. They are obligated to do their best to stabilize the patient and get them to the hospital. When a person is in the care of hospital personnel, his or her advance directive becomes valid.

What’s Involved in Preparing an Advance Directive?

The American Bar Association describes the process this way:

“Good advance planning for health care decisions is, in reality, a continuing conversation about values, priorities, the meaning of one’s life, and quality of life.”

There are many resources available online providing assistance and guidance in writing an Advance Directive.

Where to Obtain an Advance Directive Form

It’s fairly easy to get a copy of the advance care directive form from the state. Local hospitals are a reliable source, as federal law requires every hospital to not only provide information about advance directives to people in their service area, they are also required to share valuable information about the related laws in your state. Family physicians may also have advance directive forms available for patients.

Once the advance directive is completed, signed, witnessed, and notarized, it is best to upload a copy to the state’s advance directive registry. This service allows healthcare providers quick access to a person’s advance directive as need be. Locate the advance directive registry for your state online or visit the website for the U.S. Living Will Registry.

Note: Texas law now allows an option for a person’s signature to be acknowledged by a notary instead of witness signatures and for digital or electronic signatures on the Directive to Physicians, Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order, and the Medical Power of Attorney, if certain requirements are met. Please have your attorney review the law in Health and Safety Code Chapter 166 for the details.


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