Advanced Care Planning

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Planning ahead is an important way to gain peace of mind and ensure an orderly future. When you take the time to clarify what you would like to happen with future health care decisions, your family can feel more confident in deciding what steps should be taken in the event your are incapacitated.


Advanced care planning involves writing several documents. What is written only takes effect if your physician determines you are no longer be able to make health care decisions on your own.


Most states require a witness to sign the documents and some states also require them to be notarized. There are two major documents, the living will and the power of health care attorney.  


Living Will

Also called an advance directive, the living will communicates your personal wishes for a wide variety of treatments, such as CPR to restart your heart, mechanical ventilation to keep you breathing and nutrition provided intravenously or through a tube. You can also make advance choices about whether you wish to undergo certain surgeries or submit to blood transfusions and other procedures. Some pointers:

  • Get a template with suggested language from your health care provider or download it from the Internet. Words on the template can be inserted or deleted.  Some office supply stores may carry these templates, but be sure they are specific to your state.
  • Review the document with a trusted physician or other health care professional so you understand the consequences of each decision.
  • Revisit your preferences and update the document on a regular basis. You may change your mind about your directives once you better understand your condition.

Power of Health Care Attorney

The person to whom you give power of attorney, usually a family member or close friend, can interpret your living will and make decisions on matters not covered there. Make sure this person is willing to take on the role and will have the time to speak with physicians and other health care providers about your care.


Five Wishes Form

You can streamline your advanced care planning by filing out a simple form that covers both advanced directives and power of health care attorney in five categories, or wishes. This Five Wishes form, recognized in 42 states, was created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity. The five wishes are:

  • Who you want to make health care decisions for you
  • The kind of medical treatment you want or do not want
  • How comfortable you want to be
  • How you want people to treat you
  • What you want your loved ones to know

Related Resources

Caring Connections

Caring Connections

Information and support for planning ahead, caring for a loved one, living with an illness.

Five Wishes Online

Five Wishes Online

Resources for advanced care planning.