What is the difference between an advanced directive and a living will?


Multiple tools help people organize their wishes about the end of their life, including Advanced Directives and a Living Will.

No matter how well you live your life, one thing we all have in common is that we eventually die. You should not wait until you are dying to talk about it. Talking about your wishes well before you are dying can make that time easier for you and your family when the time comes. There are steps you can take to feel more prepared, starting with having conversations with the people you love about your wishes.

What is an Advanced Directive? An advanced directive is a legal document that provides instructions about your medical care. It is used by your healthcare team when you cannot make decisions for yourself. Two types of advanced directives are a living will and a durable power of attorney.

What is a living will? A living will is an advanced directive that informs your healthcare team about what kind of medical treatments you would and would not want at the end of your life. It might include whether or not you would want CPR, ventilator support for breathing, artificial nutrition, and other treatments in the case that you were seriously ill.

What is a durable power of attorney? This legal document names a person who you would want to make your medical decisions if you were unable to. This person can be a spouse, family member, or a trusted friend.

You can have both a living will and a durable power of attorney. Both of these are ONLY used by your healthcare team if you cannot communicate for yourself.

Does an attorney have to complete the form for me if it’s a legal document? In the US, this depends on the state you live in. Some states require a standardized form, while others let you make your own document. Some states will require notarization and one or two witnesses.

When is the right time to make these decisions? Any time! Seriously. We never know what will happen with our health. Thinking about what you would and wouldn’t want at the end of your life before that time comes is an empowering way to plan and prepare.

Just as important as thinking about your wishes is sharing them with the people who love you. It’s a gift to your family to know they are taking care of you how you want them to when you can no longer tell them yourself. Tell them what you want and where you keep your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney documents. You can also give your primary care provider a copy to keep with your healthcare records.
Sometimes the important people in our lives change, and so can our health care wishes. Divorce, death, or relationships drifting apart might change who you trust to be your durable power of attorney. Advanced Directives should be updated when those things happen.

Are there tools out there to help me?
Yes! Many online resources help you consider what an advanced directive could include. Five Wishes, the Conversation Guide, and Our Care Wishes are good options. These sites can help get you and your family started making decisions and writing them down in an organized, helpful way.

Knowing your goals and desires for your health care both while you are well and at the end of your life are both equally important. Please talk about your wishes early and often with those you care about and write them down! And if your closest loved ones haven’t communicated their wishes to you, find a way to start this very important conversation. It’s a gift to those you love and an easy one to give with a little preparation.

Stay safe, be well, plan ahead!

Those Nerdy Girls