Advance care planning

Advance care planning and health care directives

Advance care planning allows you to make your voice heard so your wishes are followed. You can provide clarity and understanding among family members, your doctor and your health care team. Advance care planning involves these important steps:

Choose a health care agent – This person makes health care decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Engage in conversations – Discuss your values and wishes about future health care with your health care agent, doctor and other important people in your life.

Complete a health care directive – This is a written plan for your future medical treatments.

If you do not have a written health care directive, you will still receive medical treatment. Your health care team will listen to what people close to you say about your treatment wishes.

Creating a directive

Advance care planning for future health care choices is important to do while you are healthy and able to make your own decisions. We recommend adults 18 years and older start the advance care planning process. We also recommend you review and update your health care directive whenever you have a significant change in health status or life circumstances.

Before creating a health care directive, think about what matters most to you. There are no right or wrong answers. Begin by asking:

  • Who do I trust to make decisions for me if I can no longer make my own health care decisions?
  • What are my values and beliefs about life and death, and quality of life?
  • What do I need my doctor to know about me?

By writing a health care directive, you can:

  • Make your voice heard so your wishes are followed
  • Prevent confusion and disagreement among family members and your health care team who want to follow your wishes

Health care directive forms

Short form health care directives

Suitable for individuals who only wish to appoint a health care agent or those who simply prefer a short version.

Long form health care directives

Suitable for all individuals, but may be particularly helpful in cases of serious illness.

Practical and legal considerations for your health care directive

No matter your age or health, writing your wishes in a health care directive and choosing a health care agent are key to preparing for an unpredictable future. A health care directive is your written plan for future medical treatments. It’s also is the document in which you can identify someone to communicate your wishes if you are unable to do so – this person is your health care agent.

You may specify if, how and when you would want to:

  • Continue treatment to try to stay alive
  • Stop or withhold certain treatment to die naturally
  • Receive comfort care (medical or spiritual care) to experience a certain quality of life

You don’t need a lawyer to complete a health care directive, and you don’t have to use a specific form. However, to be legal, the document you create must:

  • State your name and be in writing and dated
  • Be signed by you or someone you authorize to sign for you - you must do this at a time when you can understand and communicate your wishes
  • Have two witnesses or a notary public verify your signature

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Care planning resources