An advance medical directive is a legal document that you create to notify others of your medical preferences and wishes. People often confuse advance medical directives with living wills, but these are actually different documents. A living will records medical preference and overall wishes in the event that someone becomes incapacitated later in life but does not die.

An advance medical directive provides specific guidance either for loved ones empowered to make medical decisions, or physicians or hospitals treating someone with an advance medical directive on record.

Although the exact issues you want to address in your advance medical directive will vary depending on your health and what medical conditions you currently have, as well as other things such as family history and religion, there are certain topics that generally deserve consideration when creating an advance medical directive as part of an estate plan.

Make sure to touch on all of the major issues

While it is impossible to know exactly what medical decisions the people you love could have to make on your behalf, it is possible to predict the most likely medical scenarios your family will have to address.

These could include whether or not you wish to remain on life support indefinitely, the degree of medical intervention you approve in certain circumstances, your stance on receiving care like organ donations or blood transfusions, and even your stance on donating your own tissues and organs in the event of your death. Some people, for example, have religious beliefs that might preclude them from receiving certain kinds of care.

Your directive protects you and the people you love

Including information about your medical preferences in an advance medical directive helps ensure that no one makes a mistake when you aren’t capable of speaking up for yourself and that the people you love have adequate guidance to make good decisions.

If you are willing to undergo basic resuscitation but do not want heroic measures such as the use of ventilator systems, feeding tubes or life support, indicating your preferences regarding significant interventions can also help guide the people who love you and who provide you with care when you can’t speak on your own behalf.

Creating an advance medical directive is an important step, but updating it is also important. Your wishes and opinions will change as your health, family and available medical options change. Updating your advance medical directive routinely is as important as updating other estate planning documents, such as your last will.