Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is:

  • Making decisions now about the types of health care you want to receive if you were very ill or injured in the future and couldn’t speak for yourself
  • Choosing a health care agent who is the person who will speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself and will honor your health care goals
  • Talking with loved ones about your health care goals so they can understand and respect them
  • Writing down your health care goals in an advance directive to share with your health care providers, health care agent, and loved ones

Advance Directive (also called an “advance health care directive”)

A legal form a person fills out that says:

  • The types of medical care you would like to receive if you are very sick or injured and cannot speak for yourself
  • The name and contact information of the person you choose to be your health care agent and to speak for you if you are unable to


Capacity to make healthcare decisions involves a patient’s ability to:

  • Understand the nature and consequences of a decision
  • Make and communicate a decision
  • Understand the nature and severity of illness

Health Care Agent

The person you choose in your advance health care directive to make health care decisions for you in case you are unable to speak for him/herself. A health care agent agrees to honor your health care goals and advocate for you. (Some states refer to a health care agent as a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care)

Living Will

A living will is a written, legal document that spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive if you had a terminal illness, as well as other decisions such as pain management or organ donation.

Verbally Expressed Decision Maker

A person who the patient verbally states will make healthcare decisions for him/her during a current inpatient visit. If choice is verbally expressed versus documented in an advance health care directive, this decision maker is only applicable for the current inpatient visit. In each future admission to the hospital, the choice must be reviewed with the patient if he/she has full capacity.

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

A medical order that gives patients more control over their care by specifying the types of medical treatment they want to receive during a serious illness. The POLST provides direction for a range of medical treatments so that healthcare providers can provide the treatments patients do want and avoid those that they do not want. A POLST must be signed by a physician and the patient (or the patient’s health care agent if the patient is not able to make decisions for him/herself). Typically, a POLST is on bright colored paper. It is followed by health care providers, including Emergency Medical