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Establishing Your Medical Care Wishes

Laws that regulate fulfilling your medical care wishes when you are incapacitated differ state to state. The names of the documents vary. The types of documents vary. The titles of the person(s) to whom you assign decision making varies. If and with what agencies you need to file your documents vary. In absence of having legal documents that indicate what kind of care you want when you can’t communicate, who can make those decisions on your behalf also varies by state.

Here is an explanatory chart, courtesy of

Term Also Called Meaning
Living Will
  • Health Care Declaration
  • Directive to Physicians
  • Health Care Directive
  • Medical Directive
A legal document in which you state your wishes about life support and other kinds of medical treatments. The document takes effect if you can’t communicate your own health care wishes.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Medical Power of Attorney
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Designation of Surrogate
  • Patient Advocate Designation
A legal document in which you give another person permission to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
Advanced Health Care Directive This term usually refers to a single legal document that includes both a health care declaration and a durable power of attorney for health care. It is currently used in more than one-third of the states.Technically, however, both living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care are types of advance health care directives.
Health Care Agent
  • Attorney-in-Fact for Health Care
  • Patient Advocate
  • Health Care Proxy
  • Surrogate
  • Health Care Representative
The person you name in your durable power of attorney for health care to make medical decisions you if you cannot make them yourself.

Below are links to each state’s government-provided guidance and forms for advance healthcare directives and related matters (e.g., healthcare proxies, treatment preferences, organ donation, etc.).