The Need for Advance Directives

What is an advance health care directive?

Advance directives are legal documents that declare your choices about your medical care if you cannot your own decisions in the future.

Advance directives include a living will and a health care power of attorney.

Only about one in three US adults has completed a living will.



However, a living will is essential, as it states the end-of-life medical care that you do and do not want.

What is a health care power of attorney?

A health care power of attorney designates a health care agent who will make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.

In Pennsylvania a living will and health care power of attorney are often combined into a single document.

What can a living help me with?

Protect your rights Your preferences are stated in a legal document.


Help doctors give you care Your directive helps doctors make better decisions.

Help loved ones Family members can look to your living will rather than make difficult decisions on their own.

What is a Pennsylvania Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)?

A POLST form is filed with health care facilities.

This allows doctors to record your wishes regarding mechanical intervention, CPR and other treatments as a physician order.

What does your health care agent do?


Make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated  Your health care agent’s responsibility can begin immediately, or When your doctor determines you cannot make decisions for yourself


Your health care agent has the obligation to make medical decisions for you according to your wishes, including your religious and moral beliefs.


Your health care agent may make decisions regarding whether CPR should be used to restart your heartbeat or breathing, unless you revoke this permission.


Your health care agent can also make decisions regarding intravenous or tube feeding or water, if you have communicated your wishes.

How do you choose a health care agent?


Someone you trust and who will be a strong advocate. Someone who will carry out your wishes even if they disagree with them. You cannot appoint your doctor or other health care provider, unless that person is a family member.

Practical considerations

There is no legal requirement that your health care agent live nearby, but with a terminal illness, your agent may need to spend a long time in the area to communicate with your doctors.

You can also appoint an alternate health care agent who can take over if your first choice is unavailable or unwilling to fulfill their duties.

An estate planning attorney can help you draft a health care power of attorney that properly documents your choices.

We give families the peace of mind of knowing the best possible planning is in place.