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Benefits of Advance Directives

A simple, straightforward document called an advance directive allows you to express your wishes if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate.

Advance directives are recognized in every state, and millions of Americans have them as part of their medical records. They’re embraced by healthcare professionals, attorneys, hospice professionals and retiree organizations. 

The form allows you to appoint someone else, such as a family member or close friend, to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself, or to speak for you at a time or in a circumstance you designate.

It starts with a conversation. It may not be fun, but it is vitally important—for you and your family. If you have not made these decisions ahead of time, those decisions may be left to a distraught loved one to make for you.

What an advance directive does

Trying to make important decisions for someone else during a time of crisis is distressing. Do you know what Mom wanted? Did Dad say if he wanted to be kept on life support? Did he say which interventions he wants, and which ones he might not want?

This is why an advance directive is a gift to your loved ones if you become incapacitated.

An advance directive:

  • Gives your loved ones peace of mind
  • Minimizes stress
  • Reduces potential conflicts among family members

How an advance directive helps you

Today, there are so many options for people with life-threatening illness, ranging from high-tech medical treatments to palliative care (also known as comfort care).

Through an advance directive, you are able to tell doctors what you want — or don’t want — while you are able to do so. Having an advance directive usually means that you will avoid:

  • Unnecessary pain
  • Unhelpful procedures
  • Unwanted hospitalization

How to fill out an advance directive

When it comes to filling out your advance directive, you can be as general or explicit as you want.

With an advance directive, you can:

  • Appoint a healthcare agent to make decisions for you. This is usually a person who knows your values and is important to you.
  • Specify where you want to stay during your end-of-life care, such as hospice or at home.
  •  Ask for spiritual care
  • Allow any visitors, or limit them

All an advance directive needs to be official is the signatures of two people who are not named in the document. You do not need an attorney or a notary. It should be given to your physician for inclusion in your medical record.

If you ever change your mind about your advance directive, you can revise it at any time.

Learn more about filling out an advance directive at one of our classes ›

In this Section

End-of-life decisions

Man holding hands together 


Having an advance directive means confronting our own mortality, which is difficult, says Dr. Douglas Merrill. But putting one together may be one of the most important things you'll ever do. Read more on our blog ›

Advance directive classes

If you don't have an advance directive, come to our class and learn how to fill one out. You'll have the opportunity to ask questions while we walk you through the process of making healthcare decisions.


Reserve your spot today ›