Make sure your health care wishes will be carried out in the event you're unable to express them yourself.  Watch this video to learn about advance directives.


Download the Advance Directive for Healthcare form.

What is an Advance Directive?

  • An advance directive tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions. If you're admitted to the hospital, the hospital staff will probably talk to you about advance directives.
  • A good advance directive describes the kind of treatment you would want depending on how sick you are. For example, the directives would describe what kind of care you want if you have an illness that you're unlikely to recover from, or if you're permanently unconscious.
  • Advance directives usually tell your doctor that you don't want certain kinds of treatment. However, they can also say that you want a certain treatment no matter how sick you are.
  • Advance directives can take many forms. Laws about advance directives are different in each state. You should be aware of the laws in your state.

Living will:

  • A living will is one type of advance directive.
  • It is a written, legal document that describes the kind of medical treatments or life-sustaining treatments you would want if you were seriously or terminally ill.
  • A living will doesn't let you select someone to make decisions for you.

Durable Power of Attorney (DPA):

  • A durable power of attorney (DPA) for health care is another kind of advance directive.
  • A DPA states whom you have chosen to make health care decisions for you if you become unconscious or unable to make medical decisions.
  • A DPA is generally more useful than a living will but may not be a good choice if you don't have another person you trust to make these decisions for you.

Living wills and DPAs are legal in most states. Even if these advance directives aren't officially recognized by the law in your state, they can still be helpful in guiding your loved ones and doctor if you're unable to make decisions about your medical care. Ask your doctor, lawyer, or state representative about the law in your state.

Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR):

  • A DNR order is another kind of advance directive.
  • A DNR is a request not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing.
  • Unless given other instructions, hospital staff will try to help any patient whose heart has stopped or who has stopped breathing.
  • You can use an advance directive form or tell your doctor that you don't want to be resuscitated.
  • Your doctor will put the DNR order in your medical chart. Doctors and hospitals in all states accept DNR orders.

Should I have an Advance Directive?
Yes! By creating an advance directive, you're making your preferences known about medical care before you're faced with a serious injury or illness. Any person 18 years of age or older can prepare an advance directive. People who are seriously or terminally ill are more likely to have an advance directive. However, even if you're in good health, you might want to consider writing an advance directive. An accident or serious illness can happen suddenly, and if you already have a signed advance directive, you can feel more confident that your wishes will be known, and thus can be followed.

Writing an Advance Directive:
You can write an advance directive in several ways:

  • Use a form provided by your doctor.
  • Write your wishes down by yourself.
  • Call your health department or state department on aging to get a form. 
  • Call a lawyer.
  • Use a computer software package for legal documents.

Advance directives and living wills don't have to be complicated legal documents. They can be short, simple statements about what you want done or not done if you're unable to make those decisions. You may want to have what you've written reviewed by your doctor or a lawyer to make sure your directives are understood exactly as you intended. When you're satisfied with your directives, the orders should be notarized if possible, and copies should be given to your family and your doctor.

Additional Information:

View the listing of Vanderbilt Notaries Public
VUMC Health Care Decision Making/Advance Directives