The most basic advance directive everyone over age eighteen needs is a Healthcare Power of Attorney. This legally designates who you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. Despite the name, you don’t need an attorney to complete one. Without a Healthcare Power of Attorney, if you become incapacitated some states require you to go through a long, expensive legal guardianship procedure before any medical decisions can be made on your behalf – even if you’re married or have a loving family.

The next most common type of advance directive is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, which simply states that in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest you wish no effort would be made to revive you.

Other forms of advance directives provide general guidance about the kinds of care or interventions you would (or wouldn’t) want, and under which circumstances. These can be as simple as a set of instructions you write up yourself, or as complicated as a long document you develop with the assistance of an attorney.

One easy-to-use and inexpensive form is the Five Wishes document, which walks you through a series of simple questions that clarify your healthcare wishes in certain circumstances. The Five Wishes document is available online for a small fee.

You can also have your healthcare wishes formalized as binding medical orders that take effect when the stated circumstances occur (e.g. if I suffer a massive stroke and go into multi-organ failure, I do not want to receive dialysis). These conditional orders can be created by you and your physician and are called Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST).