Have questions about advance medical directives? Below you’ll find an advance medical directive definition, along with common questions about this tool.

Advance medical directive definition:

A legally binding document that permits you to select the types of medical care and treatment you want, and who you want to make medical decisions for you if you become physically or mentally incapacitated.

Do I really need an advance medical directive?

Yes. Everyone over the age of 18 needs an advance medical directive.

Why? Because as soon as you become an adult, no one can make decisions for you. People often think of advance medical directives as a document for aging adults, and it is true that the older you get, the more likely it is you’ll need one. However, an advance medical directive is, by definition, a document wherein you give another person power to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated, and this can happen to anyone at any time. Many young people experience bad accidents or fall unexpectedly ill and need someone else to act for them.

Can I put a DNR order in my advance medical directive?

No. DNR (do-not-resuscitate) orders differ from advance medical directives in that they must be issued by a physician, not an attorney. The two documents are often used together, but a DNR is not part of an advance medical directive.

I moved to a new state. Do I need a new advance medical directive?

Maybe. Advance medical directives are state-specific; some states recognize directives from other states, and some do not. Have your advance medical directive evaluated by an attorney after you change your residency to make sure it is valid in your new state.

How do I write an advance medical directive?

When thinking about how to write an advance medical directive, here are five key considerations:

  • Explore your options and determine your wishes.
  • Choose your medical agent carefully and empower them to act.
  • Create your advance medical directive BEFORE you are in a crisis.
  • Choose an attorney who knows how to write an advance medical directive according to the stipulations of your state and medical community.
  • Understand that different medical documents do different things.

(Read about each of these more in-depth here: How to Write an Advance Medical Directive)

Can I create an advance medical directive online?

There are forms you can download to create an advance medical directive, but we do not recommend it.  We frequently see online forms that are not valid or have harmful provisions in them.  This happens for two main reasons:

First, many online forms are not state-specific.  So, an advance medical directive that is written for Oregon may not be valid in Virginia.

Second, the online forms do not explain all the different options and the consequences of selecting different options.  We have seen this cause major problems. Even if a document is valid and doesn’t cause an unexpected outcome, using an online form can still cause problems if the language in it is not familiar to the doctor reviewing it.  They may ignore it altogether, or it may take more time before they allow it to be used. And, in a medical crisis, taking extra time is not a luxury most people have.

We suggest you have your advance medical directive drafted by an attorney who is familiar with the law in your state and the language that is normally used by doctors and hospitals in your area.

Is an advance medical directive the same as a living will?

In part. A living will is an old term (in Virginia) for a document that specified what type of treatment you wanted to receive.  It was frequently paired with a medical power of attorney, which appointed someone to make medical decisions for you.  Today, in Virginia, an advance medical directive is a combination of a living will and a medical power of attorney.  In some states, these documents are still called living wills and/or medical powers of attorney.

What is the difference between a medical agent and an agent under a financial power of attorney?

A medical agent is someone you empower to make medical decisions for you, and an agent under a financial power of attorney is someone you empower to make financial decisions for you. Assigning these roles requires you to create two different legal documents.



Ready to create your advance medical directive? Schedule an appointment with us. We’d love to get to know you and help you prepare for the future.


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is a licensed attorney who has been admitted in both Virginia and West Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and has been practicing for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law.