An advanced directive, or “living will”, is a type of legal document regarding medical or health care. An advanced directive contains instructions regarding how a person is to be treated if they should become incapacitated or unable to competent decisions regarding their own health care. This is usually done in anticipation of old age or more often as a measure against unexpected injury.

Also called an advance medical directive or healthcare proxy, this legal document appoints an agent called a proxy who is assigned with the task of overseeing the person’s health care decisions when the time comes. The proxy must accept their role as agent, which may begin at a specified date in the contract (such as when the person turns a certain age), or if the person becomes incapacitated.

Who Can Make an Advanced Directive?

Advanced directives operate according to general contract rules, as well as principal-agent rules. As such, a person creating an advanced directive for themselves should be of legal age to make a written contract (usually 18 years old in most states). Also, they should have the mental capacity to make legal decisions at the time the directive is written.

This last part of the requirements is very important. The main purpose of an advanced directive is for the creator to make the document while they still have the mental capacity to do so. Thus, it’s best if an advance directive is written well before old age or injury sets in.

Can an Advanced Directive Be Modified at a Later Date?

Like any written legal document, advanced directives can sometimes be modified at a later date. This may be necessary in order to adjust to changes in the person’s health or medical condition. Notice should be given to the proxy if any changes are going to be made.

Also, some advanced directives may expire if the creator of the document recovers from their medical condition and regains the ability to make important decisions. It is also recommended that the writer of the document include a clause that specifically states how any modifications are to be made, and to what extent the document can be modified. Other options such as a power of attorney may be needed when dealing with medical decisions at a later date.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an Advanced Directive?

Advanced directives can sometimes present some unique legal issues. You may wish to hire a qualified estate lawyer in your area who can help you with the drafting and editing of your own advanced directive. Each state has its own laws, but your attorney near you can advise you on how to proceed with your legal documents. Also, in the even to of a legal dispute or a lawsuit, your attorney will be able to represent you during any court proceedings.