Planning Ahead

Advance Directive 101: Your Common Q’s Answered

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

You’ve probably heard the term advance directive. You may even have one. If you do, you know the peace you experience after making those important decisions about your end-of-life care. If you’ve been putting off your advance directive, now is an excellent time to learn more and then take the next step.

To get you started, here are answers to some common questions about advance directives. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your particular concerns.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is a document that allows you to spell out your wishes to health care providers about treatment choices in the event you cannot speak for yourself.

There are two types of advance directives:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to name a “patient advocate” to act for you when you are not able to make decisions for yourself. The patient advocate would speak on your behalf to ensure your wishes are carried out regarding the treatment or interventions you would accept or refuse.
  • A Living Will allows you to state your wishes in writing, but it does not name a patient advocate.

Why do I need an advance directive?

You may have preferences for the kind of medical care you would want to receive or refuse in certain circumstances. For example, how would you feel about being placed on a ventilator, receiving a feeding tube or being resuscitated if you have a life limiting illness, are unconscious and unlikely to wake up or have a form of dementia? What kind of medical treatment would you want if you had a severe stroke or other serious medical condition that made you dependent on others for all of your daily care? An advance directive allows you to state your preferences for treatment ahead of time.

In her family medicine practice, Brittany Williamson, D.O., routinely asks her patients about advance directives at every annual physical.

“The best time to talk with your loved ones is before it is an emergency,” says Dr. Williamson. “Treatment decisions are difficult and take careful consideration. Think about your wishes in advance, discuss your options with your family, friends and health care professionals, and make plans now for your future health care needs. Writing down your wishes makes it clear what you want. Family members do not want to be in a position to make these hard decisions for you. Knowing you have an advance directive can be a relief to you and to your family.”

Do I need to have a lawyer to prepare my documents?

No, you do not. Seeking legal advice is not required to prepare an advance directive, but if you wish, your attorney can also help you prepare a document. However, you should talk to the person you have chosen to be your patient advocate to make sure that individual understands your wishes and is willing to act on your behalf.

Ready to take the next step? Review more information and download a free advance directives form.

To schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, visit HenryFord.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). 

If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, call 1-888-862-DOCS.


Brittany Williamson, D.O., is a family practitioner and provides care for the entire family at every stage of life — from toddlers to senior adults. She sees patients at Henry Ford Allegiance Family Medicine – Townsend in Jackson.