What Are Advance Directives?

An advance directive is a written instruction that you make while you are mentally competent that states how you want your health care decisions to be made if you become incapacitated or cannot express your wishes. Advance directives guide your physician and other health care professionals, and relieve your family from the burden of guessing what types of care and treatment you would want to receive.


Advance Care Directive, California Bar AssociationThe Advance Care Health Directive (Probate Code Section 4700-4701) is posted online on the State of California's Official California Legislative Information Web site. The form provided in Section 4701 can be used to create an advance health care directive. The other sections of this division govern the effect of the form or any other writing used to create an advance health care directive. An individual may complete or modify all or any part of the form in Section 4701. 

Five Wishes is an advance directive that covers more issues than a typical living will or power of attorney document. The document, which meets legal requirements in more than 40 states, but is not a government form. 

This document lets physicians and a patient's family know: 

  • Who should make health care decisions for a patient when they can't
  • Medical treatment they want (or don't)
  • How comfortable they want to be
  • How they want to be treated
  • What they want loved ones to know 

Let Me Decide is an advance directive book written by a geriatrician. Each book contains a four-page form designed to clearly state patient's wishes, as well as a sample form. The author encourages patients to consult their health care professional before completing the document.The document is designed to: 

  • Give individuals the opportunity to choose different levels of treatment according to wishes
  • Relieve family and friends from the burden of decision making
  • Guide physicians in making important decisions when family members are unavailable

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), uses a form that converts patient preferences into written medical orders based on a health care professional's conversation with the patient and/or a proxy. POLST programs have been implemented in at least a dozen states and are in development in at least 20 more. This is the form honored by Emergency Medical Services as opposed to Five Wishes. 

FamilyDoctor.org offers resources for patients, including information about advance directives and do-not-resuscitate orders.