Frequently Asked Questions

We have prepared the following Frequently Asked Questions -and Answers to help you understand Advance Care Planning, often-heard terms, and your options with the process that leads to the successful completion of your Advance Directive.

How is an Advance Directive Different from a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney?

A Living Will includes your instructions about medical treatments but may not name a health care agent. Likewise, a Medical Power of Attorney names the health care agent but may not address your health care wishes. An Advance Directive for Health Care is one form that addresses both important components of your health care wishes, and can also include your instructions about organ donation.   Living Will / Advanced directive Comparison Chart

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Do I Need an Attorney to Draft an Advance Directive?

No an attorney is not required, but many attorneys include advance directives in the client's Last Will and Testament. If you have complex health care needs however, you may want to consult an attorney and your physician for their advice.

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Does It Cost Anything to Create an Advance Directive?

No. Our Virginia Advance Directive for Health Care is free and available on this website. Directives are also available at any hospital.

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Do I need an Advance Directive if I’m Young and In Good Health?

Yes. An Advance Directive represents your health care wishes for the future should you suffer from a sudden injury or illness that leaves you incapable of communicating. Accidents happen and can create anxious life-changing situations. Your Advance Directive can, and should, be updated by you over time as your age or health related issues change. Regardless of your age or health, your Advance Directive provides instruction for your health care wishes and gives direction to a loved one or physician rather than having anyone guess about your wishes.

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What if I’m Not Sure What I Want Now?

Even without specifics, an Advance Directive allows you to describe values, preferences and beliefs that are important to you, including your religious beliefs. You can add statements about your values in the Advance Directive and this can be helpful to others when you cannot speak for yourself.

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Can’t I Just State My Wishes Orally?

Yes, but putting your wishes in writing reduces any confusion or misrepresentation by your loved ones or your physician. An Advance Directive serves to make your wishes clear to your loved ones and the health care staff at the hospital or wherever you are receiving care. An Oral Advance Directive can only be created if you have a terminal condition and tell your wishes directly to your physician and two witnesses.

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Do Advance Directives Only Apply to End-of-Life Issues?

No. Advance Directives can apply to other care situations in which you cannot make or communicate decisions for yourself, For example, an Advance Directive can address treatment related to chronic disease issues, psychiatric issues, or your wishes about admission to certain types of healthcare facilities.

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Do I need to know medical terms to complete my Advance Directive?

No. This is your Directive describing what care treatments you do or do not want. Information on life-prolonging treatments is available for your consideration and can help you in stating your choices. It is best to review your wishes for end-of-life care with your doctor to be sure your directives are understandable to medical professionals.

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What Does Life-Prolonging Treatment Mean?

Life-prolonging treatment involves using machines, medicines, and other artificial means to help you breathe, get nutrition and fluids in your body, or have a heartbeat, when your body cannot do these things on its own. At the end of life, these treatments do not assist in recovery.

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Who Should I Pick as My Health Care Agent?

You may select any adult (18 years or older). He/she should be aware of your wishes, be willing to serve as your agent and honor your wishes regardless of his/her own personal choices. This person should be able to make potentially difficult decisions about your care. He/she also needs to be accessible but does not have to reside in Virginia. You should choose an alternate agent in case your first choice is unavailable or unwilling to serve as your agent. Your alternate should also represent you in the same way you chose your primary agent.

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Will I Lose My Ability to Make My Own Decisions By Appointing an Agent?

No. Only when your attending physician and a second physician or licensed clinical psychologist examine you and determines you cannot make decisions for yourself, will your agent be called upon to make healthcare decisions for you. Should you regain capacity to speak for yourself, decision-making authority then returns to you.

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What If My Wishes Change Over Time?

No problem. The Directive is yours and can be canceled or modified by you at any time. When you have cancelled or changed your Advance Directive, notify everyone one who is aware of your former Directive. The most recently dated document is the one that will be honored.

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If I Have Several Children Can I Appoint All of Them?

You are best represented by selecting one person as your health care agent. Your wishes should be known by all your children but selecting one agent that is willing to represent your wishes helps avoid indecisiveness, conflict, and delayed decision making. This provides for one single source your physicians can go to for decision making.

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Can My Family or Physicians Change My Decisions if I am Unable to Speak for Myself?

No. A completed Advance Directive is a personal and legal document. It reflects both your wishes and your right to decide what care you do or do not want. Sometimes doctors and health care agents must interpret how one would have made certain decisions if something unexpected happens. They would work together to honor those choices. This is why it is important to talk with your chosen health care agent about what is most important to you.

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Can My Spouse or a Blood Relative be One of My Two Witnesses?

There are no witness restrictions other than they must be over the age of 18.

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Can My Health Care Agent be a Witness?

Yes, however it is better to have someone who is not your first or alternate health care agent as a witness. Not having your health care agent as a witness avoids any chance of a potential conflict.

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Who Should Have Copies of My Advance Directive?

You should keep your copy in a safe place but where it can easily be found. In addition, you should give a copy to your health care agent. A copy should be given to other family members who should know your wishes and a copy should be given to your primary care physician. Ask your physician to include your Advance Directive in your electronic health record that would be available at your hospital of choice.

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Are Copies of Advance Directives Valid?

Yes. Keep in mind to exchange any new updated copies of your Advance Directive with those that have your previous version. The previous copies should be destroyed.

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Is the Virginia Advance Directive Valid in Other States?

Most states have rules to honor properly executed out-of-state Advance Directives. If you spend a considerable amount of time in another state however you may want to consider completing an Advance Directive approved in that state as well.

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Is Information Available in Other Languages?

Contact your local hospital for translation services to help with other languages.

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Where Can I Go for Additional Information?

Contact the As You Wish ADVANCE CARE PLANNING office by using the Contact Us tab or access other supportive resource links on this website using our Resources tab.

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