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Advance Directives

An advance directive provides a way to document your wishes if you should become unable to direct your healthcare treatment. It includes written instructions on the type and extent of medical care you would want if you became incapacitated. Often, people have an advance directive drawn up at the same time as a will and other end-of-life documents, such as a power of attorney for legal and financial matters.

Retirement is a good time to make or review these plans. The goals are to ensure that your wishes will be respected and to avoid your loved ones having to guess what you would want.

Each state has its own regulations for advance directives, which include the following:

  • Living will. A living will documents an individual’s wishes regarding life-prolonging medical care.
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare and healthcare proxy. A power of attorney and healthcare proxy are used to designate another person to make medical decisions when the individual is unable to do so. In some states, these two types of directives are included in one document.

You should periodically review your advance directive for several reasons:

  • State laws vary, so you might want to review them if you move.
  • The decision maker you designated in your power of attorney or proxy document may become incapacitated and, therefore, unable to act on your behalf.
  • Your thoughts on life-sustaining measures could lead you to want to revise your advance directive.

For guidance, review Preparing Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney.


  • You may feel more comfortable meeting with a lawyer about an advance directive or using online resources. You should familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements to make certain your advance directive is documented appropriately.
  • Talk to your family, your doctor, and perhaps your pastor about your plans. All those with whom you have discussed your wishes should receive copies of any final (signed, dated, and notarized) advance directive.
  • Keep a card in your wallet regarding your advance directive, including your proxy’s name and contact information.
  • Make sure the originals of your advance directive carry the appropriate signatures.