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Advance Planning Resources

The Importance of Advance Planning

Advance directives give individuals a voice in their medical treatment. An individual can complete documents that define his or her preferences regarding treatment in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to speak for himself or herself. Advance directives empower individuals to choose their care plans and offer family members insight into how their loved one requests to be treated in an emergency or illness. Accordingly, the individual that the writer names as their medical decisions maker in the directive will serve as the writer's "voice," as referred to in the document. The writer can update the form as often as he or she likes. It is important to make sure the most current form reaches the hands of medical providers and the medical decision maker. Each time a new, updated version is circulated, the old version should be destroyed. The Pennsylvania Advance health Care Directive does not need to be notarized in the state of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive

What types of health care decisions are in the Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive? The directive includes medical care interventions such as:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Breathing machine or ventilator
  • Dialysis
  • Feeding tube
  • Blood transfusions
  • Surgery
  • Medicines

The directive also includes decisions related to end-of-life care that are not necessarily "medical decisions." These decisions could include such things as the individual's desires regarding visitation from clergy, living out life at home elsewhere, and burial and/or disposition of bodily remains.

In the Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive, the writer designates when the medical decision maker can act and direct care on behalf of the individual. This medical decision maker is the durable medical power of attorney. The writer should select a person who is comfortable with the individual's expressed medical wishes and can convey them to involved providers to ensure that they will come to fruition. The writer can select whether the durable medical power of attorney becomes the decision maker as soon as the document is filled out and signed or when he or she is unable to make his or her own choices. While only one person can be the medical decision maker should have any flexibility in the writer's wishes. For example, if the doctor says that there is another intervention available and the medical decision maker believes that the writer would not have any objection, the writer could choose "total flexibility" or "some flexibility" versus "no flexibility."

Living Wills

A living will is a type of Advance Directive. It is a written document that specifies what actions an individual would like to be taken in the event that they are unable to communicate their wishes or can no longer make medical decisions. A living will allows an individual to direct another person, known as a “Health Care Agent,” to carry out their wishes to initiate, continue, withhold, or withdraw medical treatment. An individual can change or revoke a living will at any time.

Five Wishes

Five Wishes is another advanced directive form to express treatment preferences in written form. It clarifies the writer's wishes and can serve as a legal document.

POLST (Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment)

The Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is not the same as the Pennsylvania Advance Medical Care Directive. Anyone can and should fill out an advance directive to make their preferences regarding medical treatment clear. Typically, the POLST is completed and used for individuals of an advanced age or stage of illness and includes medical orders. For more information visit the POLST section of the Aging Institute website and the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a written document that allows an individual to appoint another person to handle their affairs should they become unable to do so themselves by illness or injury.


  • Conventional POA starts when an individual signs the document and ceases if and when the individual is no longer able to make decisions for themselves.  
  • Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) becomes effective upon signature and remains in effect until the individual terminates the document or passes away.

An individual may wish to consult an attorney who can assist with drafting and completing these documents. Sample documents may also be found online. For more information contact the Pennsylvania Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service toll free at 1-800-692-7375.

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