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About Advance Directives

An advance directive spells out a person's wishes and instructions for medical care when the person is not able to voice his or her decisions. This document often names a trusted person as a proxy, who is legally allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient.

Examples of advance directives include:

  • Living wills - A living will is a type of advance directive. It is a written document that specifies what actions you would like to be taken in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes or can no longer make medical decisions. A living will allows you to direct another person, known as a Health Care Agent, to carry out your wishes to initiate, continue, withhold, or withdraw medical treatment. You can change or revoke a living will at any time.
    Learn more about living wills from our Health Library.
  • Durable powers of attorney - A power of attorney (POA) is a written document that allows you to appoint another person to handle your affairs should you become unable to do so yourself by illness or injury.
    Types of Powers of Attorney:
    • Conventional POA starts when you sign the document and ceases if and when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself.
    • Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) becomes effective upon signature and remains in effect until you terminate the document or pass away.

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

  • Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive – Learn more about the decisions you make as part of your advance directive.
  • Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) - 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.

Preparing an advance directive gives peace of mind — both to patients and to their loved ones. By making important decisions ahead of time, you can ensure that your wishes will be carried out.

By specifying your decisions and appointing a trusted individual as your proxy, you can ease the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty that may affect the people whom you trust with your care.

The UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute offers guidance to patients and families who seek the peace of mind an advance directive can provide. We also can provide psychological support and guidance to patients and family members who are unsure how to begin a conversation about an advance directive.

From Our Health Library:

Contact Us

For more information, or to talk with someone about advance care planning, contact the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute at:

Download the PDF about advance medical planning (link opens a new window).

For more information about advance directives, download Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive (PDF).

Additional Resources