Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, I will address residents in the state of Virginia, as I am a licensed attorney in Virginia and cannot speak for advance medical directive regulations in other states. If you reside in another state, some of these principles may apply to you, but you should check with your state regulations to know for sure.

Why Do I Need an Advance Medical Directive?

You have probably heard this document talked about, but why do you need an advance medical directive? Here are four reasons why anyone over the age of 18 needs this legal document:

1. To Ensure Your Care in a Crisis

An advance medical directive is a legal document that allows you to appoint a medical agent who has the authority to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. This document is often brought up with elder care and elder planning, but we all know that anything can happen to anyone at any time. You may be young and healthy, but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t be in an accident or experience a debilitating illness.

Let’s say that you are involved in a car crash that puts you into a coma. Since you are not coherent enough to interact with doctors about your care, you’ll need someone else to do this for you. But if you have not given legal authority to anyone in your life, no one, not even your parents or your spouse, has the legal right to make decisions about your medical care.

That’s reason number one why you need an advance medical directive: You need to ensure your wishes are carried out even if you can’t communicate.

2. To Make Things Easier for Your Loved Ones

Let’s look at this from another perspective. If you are in a crisis and the people closest to you are unable to advocate for you, it will create terrible stress for them. If someone needs to act for you but no one can, your family will have to result to extreme measures, such as filing a lawsuit to have a guardian and conservator appointed for you by a judge. Not only is this expensive and time-consuming, but it requires a lot of work from your family.

This is reason number two for why you need an advance medical directive: it’s not just about you.

3. To Communicate Your Wishes in a Legally Binding Manner

Merely telling your family or friends your medical wishes doesn’t work. Doctors are not obligated to take your family or friend’s word about what you want for your medical care. Without legal instructions, medical professionals will stick to the treatment protocols of the medical community. That may not sound so bad, but depending upon what medical issue you are having, you may not want their go-to procedures.

This makes reason number three for why you need an advance medical directive: your spoken wishes do not hold authority. Only a legal document holds authority.

4. To Have a Comprehensive Elder Plan

As you look to the future, we encourage you to create a holistic plan for how you want to live as you get older. Aging presents many new opportunities and challenges, and you will need a plan that ensures you and your loved ones will be cared for. That plan must include what type of medical treatment you want and who will oversee carrying out your wishes if you become unable to make decisions.

This is the fourth reason why you need an advance medical directive: it is part of the overall plan you need as you age.

From “Why Do I Need an Advance Medical Directive?” to “How do I Write One?”

Now that you know why you need an advance medical directive how do you write one?

To be valid in Virginia, your advance medical directive must be signed in writing, signed by you, and signed in the presence of two witnesses. It’s not overly complicated, but it does need to be done right in order to be legally binding. We recommend you work with an experienced attorney to be sure your advance medical directive will work when you need it.


Ready to create your advance medical directive? Schedule an appointment today.

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.