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Types of advance directives

Due to a medical condition that affects your mental capacity, you may someday be unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Advance directives are estate planning documents that provide instructions describing what you want to happen in that contingency.

According to the University of Michigan Health, there are two main types of advance directives: a living will and a power of attorney. Your estate plan can include both because they accomplish different things.

Living will

A living will describes what medical treatments you would like to receive if you become incapacitated. Conversely, it also identifies the medical treatments you would definitely not want to receive in the event of your incapacitation. For example, if you would not want to receive nutrition through a tube if you were in a coma, your living will could include a prohibition against tube feeding. The Mayo Clinic describes some of the treatments about which you can give instructions in your living will, whether you would like to receive them or not:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Comfort care
  • Dialysis
  • Mechanical ventilation

Power of attorney

A medical power of attorney gives decision-making authority over your medical treatment to someone whom you designate in the event of your incapacitation. Your health care surrogate does not have the authority to overrule the wishes you have expressed in your living will. However, if a situation arises that you did not anticipate in your living will, your surrogate has the authority to act on your behalf.

There are other types of advance directives as well. For example, while you can give instructions against intubation or resuscitation in your living will, you can also create separate do not intubate or do not resuscitate orders.