Healthcare Advanced Directives

The following information is not legal advice nor is it intended to replace legal counsel from an attorney. It is intended to help you plan for the future.

Every competent adult has the right to make decisions concerning his or her own health, including the right to choose or refuse medical treatment.

However, when a person becomes unable to make decisions due to a physical or mental change, such as being in a coma or developing dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease), they are considered incapacitated. To make sure an incapacitated person’s decisions regarding healthcare are respected, the law recognizes the right of a competent adult to make an advance directive instructing his or her physician to provide, withhold, or withdraw life-prolonging procedures; to designate another individual to make treatment decisions if that person becomes unable to make his or her own decision; and/or to indicate the desire to make an anatomical donation after death.

By law hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, hospices, and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are required to provide their patients with written information concerning healthcare advance directives.

What is an advance directive?

It is a written or oral statement about how you want medical decisions made should you not be able to make them yourself and/or it can express your wish to make an anatomical donation after death. Some people make advance directives when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Others put their wishes into writing while they are healthy, often as part of their estate planning.

Three types of advance directives are:

  • A Living Will
  • A Healthcare Representative Designation
  • An Anatomical Donation

You might choose to complete one, two, or all three of these forms.

What is a living will?

It is a written or oral statement of the kind of medical care you want or do not want if you become unable to make your own decisions. It is called a living will because it takes effect while you are still living. You may wish to speak to your healthcare provider or attorney to be certain you have completed the living will in a way that your wishes will be understood.

What is a healthcare representative designation?

It is a document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will. You can also designate an alternate surrogate.

Which is best?

Depending on your individual needs you may wish to complete any one or a combination of the three types of advance directives.

What is an anatomical donation?

It is a document that indicates your wish to donate, at death, all or part of your body. This can be an organ and tissue donation to persons in need, or donation of your body for training of healthcare workers. You can indicate your choice to be an organ donor by designating it on your driver’s license or state identification card (at your nearest driver’s license office), signing a uniform donor form, or expressing your wish in a living will.

Am I required to have an advance directive?

No, there is no legal requirement to complete an advance directive. However, if you have not made an advance directive, decisions about your healthcare or an anatomical donation may be made for you by a court-appointed guardian, your wife or husband, your adult child, your parent, your adult sibling, an adult relative or a close friend.

The person making decisions for you may or may not be aware of your wishes. When you make an advance directive, and discuss it with the significant people in your life, it will better assure that your wishes will be carried out the way you want.

Must an attorney prepare the advance directive?

No, the procedures are simple and do not require an attorney, though you may choose to consult one. However, an advance directive, whether it is a written document or an oral statement, needs to be witnessed by two individuals. At least one of the witnesses cannot be a spouse or a blood relative.

Can I change my mind after I write an advance directive?

Yes, you may change or cancel an advance directive at any time. Any changes should be written, signed and dated. However, you can also change an advance directive by oral statement; physical destruction of the advance directive; or by writing a new advance directive.

If your driver’s license or state identification card indicates you are an organ donor, but you no longer want this designation, contact the nearest driver’s license office to cancel the donor designation and a new license or card will be issued to you.

What should I do with my advance directive if I choose to have one?

If you designate a healthcare representative and an alternate representative, be sure to ask them if they agree to take this responsibility, discuss how you would like matters handled and give them a copy of the document

  • Make sure your healthcare provider, attorney and the significant persons in your life know you have an advance directive and where it is located. You also may want to give them a copy
  • Set up a file where you can keep a copy of your advance directive (and other important paperwork). Some people keep original papers in a bank safety deposit box. If you do, you may want to keep copies at your house or information concerning the location of your safety deposit box
  • Keep a card or note in your purse or wallet that states that you have an advance directive and where it is located
  • If you change your advance directive, make sure your healthcare provider, attorney and the significant persons in your life have the latest copy

If you have questions about your advance directive you may want to discuss these with your healthcare provider, attorney, or the significant persons in your life.

If we at Henry Community Health Hospice can be of further assistance, please contact us by phone at 765.593.2389 or 888.216.9823, or email at