The two most common forms of advance directives are a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care (commonly referred to as a health care proxy). A living will can explain — in writing — the care you wish to receive (or avoid) in the event you are incapacitated by a terminal illness or serious accident. For instance, it can express your wishes for controlling pain, receiving nutrition, or making life-support decisions.
But unlike a living will, a health care proxy allows you to legally designate someone — a proxy — to make medical decisions for you. Keep in mind that in some states you may even be able to combine a health care proxy and living will into a single document.
Hospitals and nursing homes are required to ask about the existence of any advance directive when you are admitted. In most states, a health care proxy does not take effect until you can no longer make medical decisions for yourself; until then, only you can legally consent to any treatment. In addition, you can always change or cancel the document as long as you are mentally alert. If you decide to make changes to any of these documents, be sure to do so in writing.
A comprehensive health care advance directive combines both a health care proxy and living will into one document. Organizations such as AARP, American Bar Association (ABA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) have joined forces to create a simple, yet comprehensive, form.
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