A Guide to Advance Healthcare Directives

Talking with loved ones about death and end of life decisions is often uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this leads many people to avoid the conversation altogether until it’s too late. You and your loved ones want to feel confident that your healthcare wishes are being fulfilled at the end of your life. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can give yourself and your family peace of mind by having appropriate advance healthcare directives in place long before they are needed.

In addition to having a traditional Last Will and Testament in place, there are three different advance healthcare directive documents that should be considered. When making end of life decisions, it’s important to know which documents are applicable to your unique situation. Understanding these documents and executing them properly is the first step to ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A Healthcare Power of Attorney nominates a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This person is also called a “healthcare surrogate.” Unlike other advance healthcare directives, a Healthcare Power of Attorney alone does not expressly dictate what treatment you will or will not receive. For this reason, Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills are often drafted together within the same overarching document.

Living Will

A Living Will is utilized when an individual has been deemed terminally ill and incapable of making medical decisions for themselves. A Living Will allows a person to memorialize his or her wishes regarding use of pain medication and life-prolonging treatment, nourishment and fluids, and organ donation. If a person is not comfortable making these decisions in advance, a living will also provides the option of allowing a healthcare surrogate to make these decisions on the individual’s behalf at the time treatment is needed.

Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)

A Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) is a medical order put into place by a physician and patient which states that the individual wishes to be allowed to pass naturally should their heart or breathing stop. This means medical staff will not be permitted to perform cardiac chest compressions, intubation, artificial ventilation, or defibrillation. A DNR does not prevent an individual from receiving pain medication, food and water, or other comforting treatments. When talking about DNRs, people often think of sudden deaths caused by heart attacks or strokes, however a DNR can also be used in instances where death was foreseen.

It is recommended that one or all of these documents be put in place to communicate your wishes to your family and healthcare providers. Once an advance healthcare directive has been completed, copies should be kept on file with your doctor’s office(s), as well as distributed to appropriate family members. This will ensure your wishes are fulfilled even in the event of an emergency.
If you are interested in learning more about which advance healthcare directives are right for you, contact attorney Holly M. Homra at 270-450-8253.


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