What an Advance Medical Directive Is

An advance medical directive (AMD) is a legal document stating your wishes regarding your medical care in the event you are incapacitated. Under Virginia law, this legal document allows you to do two things:

  1. Designate someone to be your medical agent and empower them to act on your behalf.
  2. Specify the type of medical care you want and/or do not want in certain situations.

It can be general, offering simple guidance, or it can give specific instructions for your agent to follow. Generally, we advise most people to keep their directions general and enable their agent(s) to make decisions as situations arise.

What an Advance Medical Directive Is Not

An advance medical directive is NOT what doctors will turn to in a moment of crisis. If your heart suddenly stops beating, medical professionals will try to resuscitate you regardless of what your AMD says—no one will stop to read it in the midst of an emergency. If you do not want CPR, you must get a DNR (do-not-resuscitate) or POST (physician order stopping treatment) order from your physician.

Selecting a Medical Agent

Your medical agent is crucial to an effective advance medical directive. They are the one(s) who will carry out your wishes and decide what you would want if you were making the decisions yourself. Sometimes, they do so only until you recover, such as following an accident, when you are very ill, or when you are in surgery. Other times they will be making long-term decisions, as in the case of a coma or non-responsive. When you choose a medical agent, you are placing your future in their hands in a very real sense. Choose someone who is right for the job.

[Related: How to Choose Your Agents and the Personal Representative for Your Estate]

How to Write an Advance Medical Directive

An advance medical directive is a legally binding document. It requires specific legal language and must be signed in the presence of witnesses and (in some states) a notary.

Like a will, AMDs are not generic forms. They are written for doctors, and in the case of a dispute, for a judge. To be confident that yours will work, you should have it drafted by an experienced attorney.

[Related: How to Write an Advance Medical Directive] 

What to Do Next

It is your responsibility to notify your doctors about your AMD. Give a copy to your physicians, hospital, attorney, spouse, and agent(s), in case you become incapacitated. We recommend you keep the originals with the rest of your estate planning documents.


If you are ready to draft your advance medical directive, schedule an appointment with us!
We would 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.