What the heck is an Advance Directive?

What the heck is an Advance Directive?

You may have heard the term advance directive, but have no idea what it means. Maybe you know it has something to do with dying. Maybe you think it sounds like a traffic problem – or a medical one. Unfortunately, the term itself doesn’t provide any good clues.

Thankfully, an advance directive is actually quite simple. It’s a term used to describe a group of documents you prepare to instruct how you’d like to be medically treated when you can’t communicate those instructions yourself.

An advance directive usually consists of the following documents:

  • Medical Durable Power of Attorney – With this document, you specify who you want to make medical decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. This person is called your Health Care Agent. You can execute this document to go into effect immediately or once a specific event occurs. You can also give your agent broad authority or limited authority, as well as provide specific directions as to your wishes. A Medical Durable Power of Attorney can be revoked or amended at any time.
  • Declaration as to Medical or Surgical Treatment – This document is often called a “Living Will” and discusses the administration, withholding, or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures when you have a terminal condition and are unconscious or otherwise incompetent or when you are in a persistive vegetative state. A living will covers things like artificial nutrition and hydration, life-sustaining procedures, and anatomical gifts. A living will should be witnessed and notarized, and can be revoked or amended at any time.
  • Disposition of Last Remains – Although your declaration for the disposition of your last remains can be included in other documents, it’s sometimes helpful to have a separate document specifically for this declaration to avoid it getting lost. In this declaration, you instruct how you want your body to be disposed of, whether by cremation, burial, or entombment. You can include as much specific detail as you’d like, including the location, type of ceremony, and even the music played. If you do not make such declaration, someone else will make all those decisions for you.

An advance directive can also include a CPR Directive, but it’s not common. A CPR Directive, or DNR Order, tells medical professionals to not perform CPR on you, regardless of the situation. It’s a pretty severe order, but it is out there as a possibility to include. If you do not have a CPR Directive, the medical professional presumes you want CPR, unless your Health Care Agent directs otherwise.

In addition to documenting your wishes, advance directives, more importantly, let your family know what those wishes are. It’s one thing to be appointed as the medical decision maker for someone, but what decisions should you then make? Do you know whether your family member wants to be kept alive on machines or nourished through a tube? Does he or she want to stay in a vegetative state if there is any chance they could recover? These are important questions to know the answers to. That’s when an advance directive becomes priceless. It gives your family peace of mind by taking out the guess work.

If you’re interested in preparing an advance directive so your wishes can be followed when you can’t communicate them, schedule a free consultation today. I offer affordable, flat-rate services for drafting advance directives so there are no surprises.

Learn more about why you should not DIY your will.


This website includes information about legal issues and legal developments. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You should contact an attorney for advice on specific legal problems.

Lauren Lester is an affordable family law, estate planning, and probate lawyer licensed in Colorado.