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What Is an Advance Directive?

Advance directive forms are a way to write down your health care wishes before a medical crisis. These legal documents tell your loved ones and doctors what medical treatments you want and don’t want in case you can’t speak for yourself.

Advance Directive vs. Living Will

A living will is a type of advance directive that outlines your health care wishes for medical care if you become seriously ill or permanently unconscious and cannot make these decisions on your own. Unlike a living will, an advance directive isn’t limited to terminal illness.

Why Do I Need an Advance Directive?

Everyone over the age of 18 should have an advance directive. Anyone can face an unexpected illness or injury that may render them unable to make health care decisions or speak for themselves. Without an advance directive, it can be much harder for family and loved ones to know what to do.

It’s best to get an advance directive in place while you’re able to think clearly and before a medical crisis ever happens. We recommend you review and update your advance directive every year.

How to Make an Advance Directive

Consider your basic beliefs about life and medicine. Talk about your concerns, hopes, and fears with your family. Think about what matters most to you and what quality of life means to you. Common responses often include:

  • having family nearby,
  • avoiding invasive life-support,
  • being at home, or
  • getting spiritual support.

How to Fill Out Your Advance Directive Form

Use the Utah Advance Health Care Directive forms to record your wishes. Your provider or social worker can help answer any questions you may have.

As you fill out the forms, you must:

  • write clearly using black ink.
  • write your name and the date on all pages.
  • use your initials instead of check marks.

By law, you will need a witness with you when you complete and sign your advance directive. This person will co-sign the form with you.

Who Can Be a Witness to an Advance Directive?

The witness must be a “disinterested adult” who meets all the following criteria.

  • The witness must be 18 years or older.
  • The witness must not be related to you by blood or marriage.
  • The witness has no right or interest to your estate.

Ask your social worker if you need help finding a witness.

The End of Her Days

One writer's cautionary story about how his mother-in-law's stroke and fight to die on her own terms, taught him the importance–and limitations–of Advance Directives.

What to Do After You Fill Out the Forms

After you complete the forms, give a copy to your health care agent and one to your primary health care team. Keep a copy in a safe place. Share the forms with anyone you feel would be helpful such as your children, grandchildren, attorney, other health care providers, or clergy person.

Medical Power of Attorney for Advance Directive

couple looking at notes

You can also have a trusted person make health care decisions for you — called a medical power of attorney or health care agent — if you are unable to speak for yourself. You can give that person permission on your advance directive form. The person you choose can be a friend, family member, or licensed professional. The Utah Advance Health Care Directive forms include both the living will and medical power of attorney for your convenience. 

Your medical power of attorney should:

  • be 18 years or older,
  • be willing and able to speak on your behalf,
  • know you and your wishes well,
  • advocate for you with your doctors and family,
  • be willing to talk with you about sensitive issues, and
  • be able to make decisions important to you.

Are Advance Health Care Directives the Same in Every State?

Each state has different laws about directives. Talk with your health care team to see if there are any conflicts with Utah’s laws. If you now live in Utah, you should update your directive to the Utah forms.

Hear From Our Patients

Aimee Smith Family

When Aimee Smith’s 84-year-old father was hospitalized for an acute health issue, she not only felt the burden of his declining health, but also the burden of making sure he got the care he desired.

Luckily, her father’s situation improved and he was discharged from the hospital, communicating his wishes along the way. Even still, it was a sharp reminder that things could go differently in the future and gave Smith and her father an opportunity to start the conversation about advance directives.