Living Wills & Advance Directives: What You Need to Know

What are Advance Directives?

In general, Advance Directives are legal documents that allow you dictate your wishes concerning medical treatment.

Are there different types of Advance Directives?

Yes. There are Advance Healthcare Directives and Advance Mental Health Directives.

What is an Advance Healthcare Directive?

An Advance Healthcare Directive (commonly known as a “Living Will”) is a legal document used only if you have a terminal condition, irreversible coma, or other permanent unconscious condition and there is no reasonable hope of recovery (vegetative state with no brain activity).

What does an Advance Healthcare Directive do?

An Advance Healthcare Directive would let your doctors and family know whether or not you want treatment (life support) to be withheld or withdrawn, and whether or not you would want artificially provided nutrition (food) and hydration (water) stopped under these circumstances.

What is an Advance Mental Health Directive?

Advance Mental Health Directives, also called Psychiatric Advance Directives (or “PADs”), describe what a person wants to happen if at some time in the future they are diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder, or if they lose capacity to give or withhold informed consent to treatment during serious episodes of psychiatric illness.

What does an Advance Mental Health Directive do?

This document can inform others about what treatment they want or don’t want from psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, and it can identify a person to whom they have given the authority to make decisions on their behalf.

What is a POLST?

“POLST” is an acronym for “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.” The POLST form helps individuals who have a serious illness or frailty. It is a medical form that records patients’ treatment wishes in what may be their last year of life.

How do I get a POLST?

A POLST Form is completed by a health care professional in conversation with the patient. Since it is a medical order it must be signed by a health care professional to be valid.

Why do I need a POLST if I have an Advance Directive?

EMTs (emergency medical technicians) cannot honor Advance Directives. Once emergency personnel have been called, they must do what is necessary to stabilize a person for transfer to a hospital. This is why having a POLST is important: POLST forms are bright green, and are usually hanging on a person’s refrigerator or are out in the open so that an EMT is aware of your instructions.

Why would I need Burial or Funeral Instructions?

Burial Instructions allow you to minimize your relative’s distress after you’ve passed away. You can make your survivors’ task easier by leaving a letter containing instructions and directions regarding your funeral, memorial, wake, etc. Some people choose to purchase their cemetery plot or columbarium before their death, and/or provide that a certain amount of money from their estate be set aside for funeral costs.

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  • Riley Ellis

    Great article! It is never too early to start planning for the unexpected. Where can I go to obtain these forms?

  • Charly Neel

    Is a POLST something you can fill out at any point, like a will or healthcare directives, or can they only be filled out after you have been diagnosed with a serious illness?

  • Mabel Smith

    What is recommended age to create and Living Will or Advance Directive?

  • Daniella Gordon

    Is there a cost behind filling out these forms and getting them legitimized/notarized, if that is necessary?