What is an advance directive?

An advance health care directive or advance directive is a kind of legal document that tells the doctor your wishes about your health care.

Advance directives can be general, with very few directions about your care. The directive may just name a substitute person (proxy) to make these decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Or it may include instructions for the chosen proxy.

Advance directives can also be very detailed and clearly outline the different types of life-sustaining treatments you would accept or refuse in certain situations. Some types of advance directives are limited to certain situations, like the living will, organ or tissue donation, or your wishes not to be revived (resuscitated) if your heart or breathing stops.

No matter which kind you use, no one will be able to control your money or other property based on your advance directive. It may also help to know that you can also change or revoke (take back) these directives at any time.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: May 21, 2015 Last Revised: May 18, 2016

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