No matter your age or health, an advance directive can be beneficial. With this document, you can explicitly state how you want to be cared for, and who you would like to oversee your medical treatment, should you be unable to communicate these preferences yourself.

This helps ensure there are no disagreements or conflicts about what you would have wanted. What goes into an advance directive for health care? Generally speaking, it can be broken up into four parts. Here is a brief overview of each.

1. Choosing a health care agent

If you are no longer able to make health care decisions for yourself, someone else needs to take on that responsibility. With an advance directive, you designate this person ahead of time. This individual, known as a health care agent, is responsible for making decisions about your treatment. This can include:

  • Admitting you to certain facilities
  • Requesting, consenting to or rejecting most types of treatment or care
  • Contracting with a facility or service to arrange care

A health care agent is expected to adhere to the wishes you previously made known.

You can also give a health care agent the power to authorize an autopsy or organ donation, as well as oversee the disposition of your body.

2. Treatment preferences

In this section, you will lay out the type of care or procedures you do or do not want. For example, you can specify whether you consent to the use of a feeding tube or ventilator. You may also write in any treatment preferences you feel strongly about.

3. Naming a legal guardian

When someone becomes incapacitated, a guardian can take over full legal responsibility for that person. That includes making decisions for their personal support, safety and welfare. With an advance directive, you can choose this person yourself in the event a court determines the situation calls for one.

It can be your health care agent, but if it is a separate individual, the health care agent has priority when it comes to health care decisions.

4. Signatures

Last, but crucially not least, is the signatures. In order to be effective, you must sign and date the advance directive in front of two witnesses. There are restrictions on who can serve as a witness. They must be legally competent adults that are not part of your family, for example. There are also limitations for those involved in your medical care.