Advance Directives: Care Instructions

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An advance directive is a legal way to state your wishes at the end of your life. It tells your family and your doctor what to do if you can't say what you want.

There are two main types of advance directives. You can change them any time your wishes change.

Living will.
This form tells your family and your doctor your wishes about life support and other treatment. The form is also called a declaration.
Medical power of attorney.
This form lets you name a person to make treatment decisions for you when you can't speak for yourself. This person is called a health care agent (health care proxy, health care surrogate). The form is also called a durable power of attorney for health care.

If you do not have an advance directive, decisions about your medical care may be made by a family member, or by a doctor or a judge who doesn't know you.

It may help to think of an advance directive as a gift to the people who care for you. If you have one, they won't have to make tough decisions by themselves.

For more information, including forms for your state, see the CaringInfo website (

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What should you include in an advance directive?

Many states have a unique advance directive form. (It may ask you to address specific issues.) Or you might use a universal form that's approved by many states.

If your form doesn't tell you what to address, it may be hard to know what to include in your advance directive. Use the questions below to help you get started.

  • Who do you want to make decisions about your medical care if you are not able to?
  • What life-support measures do you want if you have a serious illness that gets worse over time or can't be cured?
  • What are you most afraid of that might happen? (Maybe you're afraid of having pain, losing your independence, or being kept alive by machines.)
  • Where would you prefer to die? (Your home? A hospital? A nursing home?)
  • Do you want to donate your organs when you die?
  • Do you want certain religious practices performed before you die?

When should you call for help?

Be sure to contact your doctor if you have any questions.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.