to main content Understand and Complete Your Advance Directives | The Joint Commission

“Advance Directives” is a general name for several kinds of documents you can sign to help ensure that your wishes about medical treatment are known and respected if you are unable to communicate for yourself. Designate someone who can speak on your behalf at times when you can’t.

When people are brought to the doctor or hospital unprepared and without a support system, it can make an already stressful situation even more stressful. In these uncertain times we are reminded how quickly our situation could change. What if you were suddenly hospitalized? Who would speak for you? Make decisions for you?

What is an Advance Directive and What Health Care Advance Directives are There?

You have the right to make decisions about the health care you get now and in the future. An advance directive is a legal document, prepared by you, that expresses what kind of medical care you want, or who is authorized to make decisions for you should you be unable to make or communicate your wishes.

Health care advance directives include the following:

  • A living will
  • Health care power of attorney
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order
  • Physician’s orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST)

Examples of Situations in Which an Advance Directive is Needed

  • Your child turns 18 and becomes unconscious or stops breathing (due to a choking incident, a car accident, a swimming accident, a sports injury, intoxication, etc.). Will the hospital/ER share confidential information with you about your adult child? Who will make critical decisions about urgent care?
  • A young adult goes away to college (near or far) and has a medical emergency that requires urgent medical care. Who makes decisions if he/she cannot?
  • A chronic illness or condition causes a decline in cognition (dementia, Parkinson’s Psychosis, a severe infection, Schizophrenia, Psychotic episode, etc.). Who decides on treatment options and care plan decisions?  
  • A cancer patient is terminally ill and becomes unable to make decisions about his/her care. Who has the authority to make decisions on his/her behalf?

Where Can You Get an Advance Directive?

You can get an advance directive from any of the following:

  • Your health care provider
  • Your attorney
  • Your local area agency on aging
  • Your state health department

Requirements for Making Valid Health Care Advance Directives Vary from State to State

For help with advance directives in your state, visit CaringInfo, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), where you can download a free advance directive form for your state and also find the following resources:

Resources and Tools: