Dear Marci,

I want to put together a plan with my health care wishes in the event that I’m unable to make decisions at some point in the future. Can you help me get started?

-June (Bar Harbor, ME)

Dear June,

That’s very wise of you! First, it’s good to know that in most cases, you don’t need a specific form to put together your wishes. Second, these are your options in terms of the types of documents you may want to put together:

  • Health care proxy: This names someone you know as your proxy, or representative, and allows them to express your health care wishes for you if you’re unable to do so for yourself.
  • Living will: This lists out the type of medical care you would want in specified circumstances.
  • Advance directive: This can be a combination of both a living will and health care proxy documents.
  • Power of attorney: This names someone you trust as your agent to make property, financial, and other legal decisions for you, and is usually prepared by a lawyer.

Note: you can choose the same person to be your proxy in charge of making both medical and legal decisions, but you’ll have to put this on two separate documents.

Once you’ve decided which documents you’ll want to put together, you should make sure that they:

  • Comply with any state rules
  • Cover all the issues that are important to you

Next, make sure you discuss your future care documents with family members, health care providers, and anyone else you think should be in-the-know. You’ll want to give your providers a copy of your documents and bring a copy to the hospital each time you are admitted, if possible.

Here are some resources if you need help creating these documents or finding more information about your state’s rules:

  • Your state’s attorney general office or department of health
  • The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
  • The American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly
  • Your state bar association
  • Your local hospital

Good luck!


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