Frequently Asked Questions provided by the Virginia Bar Association:
Why create an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive allows you to state your choices for healthcare or
to name someone to make those choices for you, if you become unable to
make decisions about your medical treatment. It enables you to say "yes"
to treatment you want, or "no" to treatment you do not want.
What kind of Advance Directive do I need?
You may execute a
power of attorney for healthcare, a written healthcare directive, or both. Of the two kinds of Advance Directives,
a power of attorney for healthcare is broader. A
written healthcare directive is helpful in stating your wishes, but it may not be possible to anticipate
all possible medical situations for which your written healthcare directive
might apply. The best way to protect your interests, however, is to execute both.
Are Advanced Directives only for end-of-life issues?
No. Advance directives may address any type of care in situations in which
you cannot make decisions for yourself. For example, an advance directive
may address psychiatric (mental health) issues, chronic disease issues,
and wishes about admissions to certain types of healthcare facilities.
Can I just say my wishes orally?
You should always share your healthcare wishes with your loved ones and
your doctors. However, you may only create an Oral Advance Directive if
you have a terminal condition and tell your wishes directly to your doctor.
Also, putting your wishes in writing reduces confusion about your wishes
since people often forget or misunderstand what was said orally.
What if I'm unsure of what healthcare I may want?
You should still execute an Advance Directive to describe the important
values and beliefs you have. You can also indicate your religious beliefs.
Often, these types of statements will help others make appropriate healthcare
choices for you when you cannot make them yourself.
I don't know medical terms. What do I need to say?
You can, and should, put your wishes in your own words. Just describe as
best you can what medical care you do and do not want.
I'm young and/or in good health. Do I need an Advance Directive?
Yes. No one knows what the future might bring. For example, you might need
someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you suffer
a sudden injury or illness (such as a car accident). It is better to choose
this person in advance and tell him or her about your healthcare wishes.
If you do not choose someone in advance, the law will assign a decision
maker who must guess about your wishes.
Who should I pick as my healthcare Power of Attorney?
You may appoint any adult (18 years or older). This person needs to be
accessible, but he/she does not need to live in Virginia. When you choose
your agent, make sure that you have chosen someone who will be able to
make potentially difficult decisions about your care, is willing to serve
as your agent, and is aware of your wishes. You should also choose an
alternate in case your first choice is unavailable (for example, your
first choice may not be found or may not be willing to be your agent).
I have several children. Can I appoint all of them?
You really should pick just one person as your agent. Picking more than
one person can result in a conflict, delay decision-making, or result
in an inability to make any decision at all. You can include your other
children by letting them know your choices. You may also require your
one agent to talk with your other children prior to making any decisions.
If I appoint an agent will I lose my ability to make my own decisions?
No. Your agent only gets to make healthcare decisions for you if your doctor
and another doctor or licensed clinical psychologist examine you and determine
you cannot make decisions for yourself. Furthermore, as soon as you can
speak for yourself again, decision-making authority returns to you.
What if I change my mind?
You may cancel or modify your Advance Directive at any time, but it is
important that you tell others that you have canceled or changed your
What does it mean to have a terminal condition?
It means that your doctor has determined that you are likely to die soon
or that you are in a persistent vegetative state, which is when you have
no awareness of your surroundings and your doctors have determined you
will not recover.
What does life-prolonging treatment mean?
It means using machines, medicines, and other artificial means to help
you breathe, eat, get fluids in your body, have a heartbeat, and otherwise
stay alive when your body cannot do these things on its own. Life-prolonging
treatment will not help you recover. It does not include drugs to keep
I do not want to limit my care if I have a terminal condition. Will an
Advance Directive help me?
Yes. Your Advance Directive will enable your physicians and family to know
that this is your wish.
I'm worried about pain, but I don't want to be hooked up to machines if
I have a terminal condition. Should I have an Advance Directive?
Yes. No matter what you choose about life-prolonging treatment, you will
be treated for pain and kept comfortable.
Will I get less respect and medical attention if I do not want to have
No. Your physicians and nurses may not discriminate against you based on
your healthcare choices. You will get whatever care is appropriate, but
you will not get any treatment that you have stated you do not want.
Can my spouse be one of my two witnesses? What about other blood relatives?
Yes, your husband/wife can be your witness. Other blood relatives can also
be witnesses as long as they are adults.
Can my agent be a witness?
Yes, but to avoid the chance of conflict, it is better to have someone
who is not your agent (or your alternate agent) be a witness.
Does an Advance Directive in Virginia need to be notarized?
Are copies of Advance Directives valid?
I have a financial Power of Attorney. Does It cover healthcare decisions?
Probably not. It is better to have a separate healthcare power of attorney
document. If you are in doubt, consult a lawyer or ask at a hospital.
Can my family or physicians override my decisions if I am unable to speak
No. This is one of the major reasons to create an Advance Directive.
Will my Virginia Advance Directive be valid in other states?
It should be. Just as Virginia honors Advance Directives properly executed
in other states, most states have similar rules to honor out-of-state
Advance Directives. Nevertheless, if you spend a considerable amount of
time in another state, you may want to have an Advance Directive executed
for that state as well. You may also want to register your Advance Directive
with an online registry, such as
US Living Will Registry.
Where should I keep my Advance Directive? Who gets copies?
Just as important as creating an Advance Directive is making sure that
other people know that you have it and know where it is located. Specifically,
- Give a copy or the original to your agent or proxy.
- Give a copy to your physician(s).
- Give a copy to family and friends.
- Bring it to the hospital with you.
Register a copy at
Connect Virginia, and make sure your agent or proxy has access.
Additionally, you should keep a copy of your Advance Directive in a safe
place where it can be found easily.
Do not keep your only copy in a lock box or safe.
Does it cost anything to create an advance directive?
No. Free forms are linked at the top of this page.
Do I need a lawyer to draft an Advance Directive? Must I use these forms?
A lawyer is not required to draft a valid Advance Directive. There are
free forms available at the links above, but a lawyer may help you if
you have questions or complex healthcare needs. The free forms are also
only models. You can use them or numerous other forms or no form at all.
Just be sure that whatever you use includes: (1) your healthcare wishes,
(2) your signature, and (3) the signatures of two adult witnesses.
What is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order?
A DNR is a doctor's order saying that you will not get CPR, drugs, or electric
shock to restart your heart or breathing if your heart stops or you stop
breathing. A Durable Do Not Resuscitate Order (DDNR) is a special DNR
order that your doctor can provide you so that EMS, fire, and rescue and
any healthcare provider will know your wishes about resuscitation.
Note: copies of DDNR forms are now valid in Virginia, and DDNR forms may
be downloaded (to bring to your physician) at the
Office of Emergency Medical Services website.
Can my Advance Directive provide organ donation wishes?
Yes. Your advance directive may provide organ donation and other anatomical