If you haven’t drafted your advance medical directive, the time is now! You cannot be medically prepared for the future without one. If you need help to know how to write an advance medical directive, here are five tips to get you started:

ONE: Explore your options and determine your wishes so that you can better know how to write your advance medical directive.

When considering how to write your advance medical directive, understand that there is more to it than picking someone to make medical decisions for you. You need to decide what you want if you end up in a medical situation where you cannot make choices for yourself.  If you do not clearly state your wishes ahead of time, the responsibility will fall on your medical agent. This puts them in a difficult and unfair position as they try to guess what you’d want amid an emotional and stressful time.

To avoid burdening your loved ones and to ensure your wishes are carried out, ponder this question for yourself:

Do you want a natural death, or do you want professionals to take life-sustaining measures if your health is fatally compromised?

Medical Intervention vs. Natural Death

Some people want no intervention. They want to die naturally, whether from injuries or a medical condition as soon as their body shuts down. Others want professionals to intervene and attempt to save their life at all costs and keep them alive for as long as modern medicine can in case they eventually recover. A lot of people are somewhere in the middle, wanting a certain amount of life-sustaining measures to be taken but not for a long period of time if it is clear they won’t recover.

There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question. People will have different responses, and they should. For example, medical intervention makes more sense for a 48-year-old who has a heart attack than for a 98-year-old who has terminal cancer. You will have to evaluate this question based on your age, overall health, and personal convictions.

TWO: Choose your medical agent carefully and empower them to act.

Once you know what you want, you will need to appoint a medical agent to give decision-making authority to. This is another step that takes forethought and insight. Do not automatically assume that the person you are emotionally closest to is the right choice. You need someone who will step into their role and advocate for you, whatever your decision may be. This is a mental and emotional burden that some people are not equipped to carry. It is a good strategy to choose someone who is both ethical and level-headed, that you have confidence will be able to make the hard choices on your behalf.

After you decide who you would like to be your medical agent, ask them. Do not assign a role to someone without telling them. You will also need to explain your thinking to them and help them understand their role. It may be best for them to talk to your attorney, who should know how to write an advance medical directive that is specifically tailored to you. Give your agent the opportunity to ask questions and educate themselves before they are called upon to act. By taking these steps, you empower them for the future.

[Related: For more tips on choosing a medical agent read our article:Who Should I Choose As My Agent?]

THREE: Create your advance medical directive BEFORE you are in a crisis.

Too many people find themselves in unfortunate situations because they didn’t know how to write an advance medical directive, never got around to dealing with it, or thought they could just deal with medical issues as they came up.

Here is the problem: if you become medically incapacitated without an advance medical directive, no one has the power to make any decisions for you–not even your spouse, children, or parents. Medical professionals will most likely take every measure possible to keep you alive for as long as they can, even if there is no hope of your recovery. The only option for your family may be to apply for legal guardianship over you, and gaining guardianship is usually a long and inconvenient process that is determined in court-not ideal amid a pressing medical situation.

FOUR: Choose an attorney who knows how to write an advance medical directive according to the stipulations of your state.

Some states honor out-of-state advance medical directives, and some do not. Anytime you move to a new state you should get all your estate planning and elder planning documents re-evaluated by an attorney who specializes in this area of the law in your new state of residency. If changes need to be made, they will know how to either add addendums or create new documents for you. But be careful. You want to choose an attorney who does not charge you unnecessarily and who is experienced in knowing what a judge will be looking for should your advance medical directive be questioned for any reason. They should also be able to draft the documents in a way that is understood by the medical community. Doctors are often not in a position to take their time, and they need to be able to read your advance medical directive quickly and take action. The best advance medical directives are written to both hold up in court and to be familiar to doctors.

[Related: “6 Tips for Choosing the Right Estate Planning Attorney”]

FIVE: Understand that there are different medical documents that do different things

Even if you know how to write an advance medical directive, it may not address everything you want. For example, a Do Not Resuscitate order (referred to as a DNR) is not included in an advance medical directive. While an advance medical directive needs to be drafted by an attorney, a DNR must be issued by a physician. Other documents like Five Wishes and Polst forms are different variations of an advance medical directive that are allowable in some states but not all. Again, when deciding between your option, remember that it is important to remember how the medical community will interpret these documents, and they are not all equal in quality and effectiveness.


Do you need more advice about how to write an advance medical directive? We would love to get to know you, explain your options further, and help you write an advance medical directive that is tailored to your preferences. Contact us today to set up your free consultation.

Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is a licensed attorney who has been admitted in both Virginia and West Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and has been practicing for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law.