Advance Care Planning

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Advance Care Planning

As a patient, you have the right to make your own informed decisions about medical care and to communicate these decisions to health care providers.

If, however, through sickness or injury you become unable to make informed decisions about your medical care — including whether to accept or refuse treatment — how will your health care providers and family know your wishes?

What Is Advance Care Planning?

Advance Care Planning means thinking about health care choices you might face in the future. In can include writing down your wishes in an “advance directive” to guide your doctors and family, and choosing a health care agent to speak for you in case you become unable to speak for yourself. Planning ahead helps you get the health care want and gives your family peace of mind.

Advance Directive/Living Will

An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to state your choices for medical treatment before you actually need such care. When you need medical care, certain decisions need to be made involving the kind of care to be given. These decisions may become harder if you become unable to tell your doctor and loved ones what kind of medical care you want.

Taking the time to fill out an advance directive also gives you the opportunity to tell health care providers what your wishes are regarding your treatment and allows you to name a person to make treatment decisions for you in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. A signed advance directive will only be followed in the event that you become mentally or physically unable to convey your wishes regarding medical care decisions.

Medical Power of Attorney

Medical power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes someone you trust (agent) to make medical decisions on your behalf when you unable to communicate your wishes. It is formerly known as Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

A Medical Power of Attorney (en español) is a form that allows you to appoint someone (your "agent") to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. These decisions can include:

  • Agreeing to or refusing medical treatment;
  • deciding not to continue medical treatment; or
  • making decisions to stop or not start life-sustaining treatment

Remember: The person you choose as your agent makes decision for you ONLY if you cannot make decisions for yourself.

Discuss this advance directive with the person you have chosen as your agent, your physician and/or attorney before you sign it. Also, give your physician, your agent and your attorney copies of your signed Medical Power of Attorney form. It only applies to health care decisions, not to financial matters.

Learn More about Advance Care Planning

You can learn more about advance directives, get assistance completing one, and sign your advance directive at

Frequently Asked Questions

Advance directives are a way to protect your rights as a patient. In the event you lose your ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of health care decisions, an advance directive assures your wishes concerning treatment will be communicated to your physician, medical staff and hospital.

No. Federal law protects your right to choose whether or not you wish to execute an advance directive. The hospital is prohibited from conditioning the provision of care or discriminating against you based on your decision.

No. Your health care team has the duty to provide quality care to you regardless of an advance directive. Your advance directive serves only to inform the team of your wishes or to appoint someone to speak for you if you are unable to communicate.

These advance directives are recognized in Texas:

(Commonly referred to as a living will)

A Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Español) is a form that allows you to instruct physicians to administer, withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment when it has been determined by your physician that you have an irreversible or terminal condition, and you are not able to communicate.

Life-sustaining treatment is a treatment or procedure that includes life-sustaining medications and artificial life supports, such as mechanical breathing machines, kidney dialysis and artificial nutrition and hydration, that is not expected to cure your condition or make you better and is only prolonging the moment of death.

Remember: A Directive to Physicians goes into effect ONLY when your physician has determined that you have a terminal or irreversible condition and are unable to make your own health care decisions. You can also change or cancel your Directive to Physician at any time for any reason. Discuss these matters with your physician, family and/or friends before signing — communicate what your choices are before you have a health crisis.

An Out of Hospital DNR Order is a form completed by an individual person and his or her physician that allows the patient to refuse specific life-sustaining treatments outside of a hospital inpatient setting, such as your doctor's office or in the emergency center of University Hospital. An Out-of-Hospital DNR Order form or ID necklace or bracelet will tell health care providers, including emergency medical service personnel, not to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other life-sustaining treatments.

  • To show that you have an Out-of-Hospital DNR Order, you must have the original or a copy of your form with you or wear an approved ID necklace or bracelet.
  • The Out-of-Hospital DNR Order form and bracelet must be obtained through a physician.
  • You may cancel the Out-of-Hospital DNR Order at any time.
  • Discuss the document with your physician, family and/or friends before you sign it.

You are not required to complete any of the above referenced documents should you choose not to do so. They are not required for receiving medical care. They are simply the tools that are available to you to make your wishes known regarding your medical treatment in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. Please consult your legal professional and/or health care provider if you have additional questions about any of the information provided.

You are competent if you have the ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a health care decision, including significant benefits and risks of treatment.

A Directive to Physicians becomes effective only when (1) your attending physician certifies that you have a terminal or irreversible condition that requires life-sustaining treatment and which may result in your death within a relatively short time, and (2) you are comatose, incompetent or otherwise unable to communicate.

A person designated by you pursuant to a Medical Power of Attorney is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf when your attending physician certifies in writing that you lack capacity to make health care decisions for yourself.

An advance directive is a legal document but, according to Texas law, it does not have to be drawn up by a lawyer or notarized. You are allowed to have your advance directive witnessed by two qualified witnesses as described in more detail below instead of a notary. However, if you would prefer for your directive to be notarized, this option is available to you. Each directive must be completed and witnessed or notarized according to Texas law to be effective. Advance directive forms are available free of charge at all University Health facilities.

Yes. A non-written Directive to Physicians is valid, but the requirements differ from a written directive. To be legally binding, the oral directive must be stated in the presence of two qualified witnesses as described below and the attending physician. It must also be documented in your medical record.

The qualifications for witnessing are the same for each type of directive. Two witnesses are required, one of which must be impartial or disinterested. Under Texas law, physicians, nurses, other hospital staff caring for you and the hospital's business office employees do not qualify as impartial or disinterested witnesses, nor do persons related to you by blood or marriage. Additionally, persons entitled to any part of your estate by will, deed or operation of law, or persons who have any claim against your estate do not qualify as impartial witnesses. Friends, neighbors or hospital volunteers make good witnesses.

If properly executed, your advance directive should be honored in any hospital in Texas. To assure that healthcare providers are aware of your advance directive, send the original to your personal physician or keep a copy at home and tell your family where to find your advance directive in case of an emergency.

Yes. A Directive to Physician, a Medical Power of Attorney and an Out-of-Hospital, Do-Not-Resuscitate may be revoked or cancelled. Generally, each may be revoked by defacing or tearing up the directive, or by an oral or written statement canceling the directive, which is then given to the health care provider or person authorized to make your health care decisions.

Any time is a good time to make an advance directive, but it is especially important when you are ill and seeking medical care. Remember, let your values and beliefs be your guide. Discuss your wishes with your family and friends, your physician, clergy and other important people in your life.

You can talk to your physician, health care provider or attorney and you can also visit for more information about Advance Directives and Living Wills.

Competent persons age 18 or older may make either type of advance directive. Parents and legal guardians speak for minor children and need no directive for treatment. However, parents should execute a Directive to Physicians if they choose to withhold or withdraw treatment from their terminally ill minor.