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.
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
The Honoring Choices MN health care directive is available in a short or long form.
Suitable for young, healthy people, those with language barriers, individuals who only wish to appoint a health care agent or people who simply prefer a short version.
Suitable for all ages, particularly recommended for those over age 50 or individuals with a chronic, progressive disease.
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
A health care directive is the written plan you make for your future medical treatments. A health care directive 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, also known as a power of attorney for health care. A health care directive describes the medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you would or would not want if you were unable to speak for yourself.
No. However, completing a health care directive helps to make sure your family and health care team follow your wishes. It is also valuable to have a quality conversation with the important people in your life about your values and goals for care across the continuum of life.
You must be 18 years old to create a health care directive. The document must:
- Be in writing and dated
- 'State your name
- Identify a health care agent or articulate wishes for life sustaining treatment – or both
- 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 health care wishes.
- Have a notary public or two witnesses verify your signature
You may be as specific or general as you wish. But specific statements can be useful to:
- Clarify your goals for medical care for certain situations, such as permanent injury to your brain
- Help guide your health care agent or doctor and other members of your care team in making decisions about your health care treatment
A health care agent is a person who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make or communicate decisions yourself. A health care agent makes sure your health care team follows what you specify in your health care directive.
Your health care agent should be someone that you know well and trust to follow your wishes, such as a family member or friend. Your health care agent cannot be your doctor or another member of your health care team, unless your doctor or health care team member is a family member or you give reasons for choosing this person in your health care directive.
Talking with your doctor about your health care wishes is important but not a legal requirement. Your doctor can check that your health care directive is clear and complete. Your doctor also can confirm if your health care team will follow your wishes.
Give copies of your signed health care directive to your health care agent, your doctor and health care team, family members and anyone else you want to know about your future health care wishes. Keep the original document easily available at your home.
Your health care directive lasts until you change or cancel it – which you may do at any time. We recommend reviewing and updating your health care directive every few years or with a change in health or circumstance.
To help you with your advance care planning, please see the following educational material from Honoring Choices Minnesota:
- American Bar Association Toolkit – Clarify and communicate what's important when confronting a serious illness.
- Caring Connections – Communicate your values and wishes in a meaningful way.
- Health Care Directives (PDF) – Learn how to create a Health Care Directive.
- Honoring Choices Minnesota – This statewide coalition supports conversations about end-of-life planning.
- Honoring Choices Wisconsin
- Life Source – Learn about organ and tissue donation.
- My Directives – This online Health Care Directive is legal and easy to understand.
- National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) – This national organization raises awareness of advance care planning.
- Prepare for Your Care – Navigate medical decisions with this interactive resource.
- The Conversation Project – Learn how to talk about end-of-life care with family and doctors.