Advanced Healthcare Directives

Make Your Own Decisions and Make Them Known

Thinking ahead and communicating your wishes for your health care, and eventually end-of-life care, will make things easier on those you care about and who care for you and it will alleviate any questions about what you want to happen in certain situations.

Advanced directives serve as a record of your medical preferences in case you can’t speak for yourself or make decisions at that time. The best time to make these decisions and get these documents in order is now; life is unpredictable and it’s better to be prepared.

There are several important documents you should have in writing. Make sure a trusted family member or friend knows about these documents and that your doctors are aware of your preferences.

Living will—this let’s healthcare providers know what type of medical treatment you want if you have a terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness; if you can’t speak for yourself or are unable to make decisions. It will outline things like whether you want to be tube fed or receive artificial life support.

Healthcare power of attorney—this appoints someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. It’s also known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare or healthcare proxy. This person can talk to doctors on your behalf and be your advocate when you’re not able to do so yourself. This person should know you well, know your wishes (even if they don’t agree with them), and make sure your preferences are carried out.

Anatomical gifts—this denotes if you want to donate your organs and/or tissue. This may be indicated on your driver’s license—if you said yes when asked this at the DMV, you’ll have a red heart on your license. This is legally binding. If you aren’t an organ donor and you want to be you can register online at Donate Life NC.

Advanced instruction for mental health—this outlines your preferences regarding your mental health treatment and authorizes a mental healthcare provider to act according to your wishes.
You are not required by law to file your directive paperwork with the Secretary of State; it’s voluntary. But if you do, they must be notarized before submitting to the NC Secretary of State for filing into the Health Care Registry, except for the Declaration of an Anatomical Gift (organ donor card)—this just requires your signature and those of two witnesses.

You don’t have to use the forms provided by the state, links are here (there are fees associated with the forms); you can file your directives in any format. If you have any questions or concerns about advanced directives you should contact your attorney. You can also visit the NC Secretary of State website for more information.

You can also find local resources with a quick search on Eldercare Locator. It’s a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institute on Aging, NC Secretary of State


  •  Start discussions early
  •  Create documents
  •  Review plans as circumstances change
  • Keep important papers in one place (and make sure a trusted family member or friend knows the location)
  •  Make copies of healthcare directives for your healthcare providers
  •  Give permission (in advance) for your healthcare power of attorney/proxy to talk with doctors
  •  Reduce anxiety by planning ahead
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