When making plans about your healthcare in an emergency, it’s important to document your wishes. This gives your healthcare providers and loved ones a roadmap to follow, in case you are no longer able to make decisions. Two documents that can help are the Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney and the Living Will.
Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney
A durable healthcare power of attorney (HCPA) is a document that assigns another person as your “agent,” or representative. They can make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to because you are very hurt or sick. This person can only make these decisions if you are unable to.
Picking an HCPA agent
Your agent is the person who can make choices for you. Pick a trusted adult who is:
- At least 18 years old.
- Not your current doctor and not an administrator of your nursing home. However, you can pick a doctor or nursing home worker if they are your relative, or if you share a religious group.
It’s a good idea to discuss this choice with whoever you pick as your agent. It can also be helpful to tell other people, like family members, about your choice. That way, in case of an emergency, they know what to expect.
How to complete an HCPA
To create a Health Care Power of Attorney:
- Complete the form. Include your name and address. Also, include your agent’s name and address. You can choose up to two backup agents. This can be important if your first choice is unavailable.
- Read it carefully. If there is anything listed under “Authority of Agent” that you don’t want your agent to be able do, cross out that item on the form.
- Sign it. You must follow the rules for signing your HCPA.
Signing your HCPA
You must sign the form in front of one notary public or two adult witnesses. Your witnesses:
- Must be over 18 years old.
- Can't be your agent, relative (by blood, marriage or adoption), current doctor or an administrator at your nursing home.
Ending your HCPA
You can change your mind about your HCPA at any time. If you decide you no longer want the person you picked to be your agent:
- Tell that person and any doctor that has a copy of your HCPA.
- If you want, you can complete a new HCPA with a different agent.
If you know you only want the HCPA to last for a certain period of time, you can include an end date when you fill it out.
A living will is a document that tells your doctors and healthcare agent what life sustaining treatments you do and do not want if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This is helpful, even if you have a HCPA, because it gives your agent and doctor a record of what you want. If you have a living will, your healthcare agent has to follow it.
If you are at the end of your life or permanently unconscious, you can tell your doctor to not give you treatments that would keep you alive longer. These treatments can include CPR and artificial nutrition. As long as you are able to communicate with your doctor, the living will does not guide treatment. The doctors will speak with you to find out what treatment you want as long as you are able.
If you say that you do not want “life-sustaining treatment,” it does not mean that the doctors and nurses will stop caring for you. They will still give you care that reduces your suffering—like pain medicine or water—just not treatment that will keep you alive longer. Your doctors and nurses must still provide you comfort care.
If you’re facing a terminal illness, or if you have specific concerns about end of life care, talk to your doctor. They can help explain what treatments might be given to you in an end of life situation.
Creating a living will
If you decide that you want your doctor to withhold all life-sustaining care if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious, you can use the standard form on our site.
- Complete the form. Include the names of anyone you wish your doctor to notify before withdrawing life-sustaining care.
- Sign the form. Sign and date the form. Two adult witnesses or a notary must also sign it.
- Share the form. Give copies of your living will to your doctors, HCPA agent and family members who will oversee your care. You should take it with you anytime you go into the hospital.
If you decide that there are only certain life-sustaining treatments that you want you doctor to withhold, or if you don’t want your doctor to withhold any life-sustaining treatments, you can record that in a living will too. However, you will not be able to use the form on our site to record those wishes. You may want to hire an attorney to draft that document for you.
If your living will and HCPA conflict, your doctors will follow your living will.
Ending your living will
You can change your mind about your living will at any time. If you decide you no longer want what you recorded in your living will:
- Tell your doctors, family and HCPA agent that you revoke your living will.
- Ask anyone who has a copy of the document to return it to you. Destroy copies of the document.
Record your plans
Go to “Forms and Letters” to find the templates for the durable HCPA and living will. After you complete the documents, be sure to discuss your wishes with the person or people that you picked as your healthcare agent. Give your agent a copy of both documents. It is also helpful to file a copy of both documents with your doctor’s office and local hospital. In an emergency, or anytime you go into the hospital, take copies of both of these documents with you.
While you’re making your healthcare plans, it can also be a good time to think about your financial plans. Learn more about how you can record these plans with a will or transfer on death.