A Voice in Your Future
Advance care planning includes the preparation of documents called advance directives. These documents give you a voice in your medical treatment if a serious illness or injury leaves you unable to make decisions for yourself. They give your family and healthcare team directions about the medical treatments you wish or do not wish to receive.
Important notes on preparing advance directives for health care:
- You must be 18 years or older.
- There is no cost to you.
- You do not need a lawyer.
- You can review and change your mind at any time.
- Illinois law provides different ways for you to revoke, or cancel, an advance directive.
Put your wishes in writing. It is important to put your wishes in writing to ensure that they will be followed. Advance directives documents provide detailed information and are available at all Northwestern Medicine hospitals and most Northwestern Medicine facilities. Please ask a member of your healthcare team for a copy, or use the links at the end of this page to access forms through the Illinois Department of Public Health.
If you do not complete advance directives and are unable to communicate your wishes, your medical treatment will be decided for you in accordance with the Health Care Surrogate Act.
Overview of Advance Directives for Health Care
A power of attorney for health care is a legal document that allows you to name a person who will act as your “agent.” Unless you state otherwise, your agent will have broad authority to make decisions about treatment for any medical or mental conditions you have if you are unable to do so, including life-sustaining treatment. You can also name one or more “successor” agents to step in if your agent is unavailable.
Your agent must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Not be a member of your healthcare team.
- Be willing to assume this responsibility.
Ideally, your agent should:
- Be aware of your values and medical condition.
- Be available to speak with members of your healthcare team.
- Be trusted to carry out your wishes.
- Be able to remain calm in a crisis.
A living will is a document that addresses life-sustaining procedures for patients who are terminally ill. In Illinois, the Living Will Declaration states that you do not want medical treatments that would only prolong the dying process during an end-of-life situation. It tells your healthcare team to focus on keeping you comfortable in your final days.
A Practitioner Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form is an advance directive and medical order that tells your healthcare team your preferences about the levels of care you want, including:
- Resuscitation if your heart stops beating (request CPR or Do Not Resuscitate).
- Medical interventions to support your breathing.
- Medically administered nutrition if you are unable to eat or drink.
A POLST form is appropriate if you are seriously ill or frail, or have a life expectancy of less than one year. A POLST must be signed by you or your healthcare agent, and your physician, advanced practice nurse or physician’s assistant. The form travels with you as you move from one healthcare setting to another. You should review it with your healthcare team at every transfer of care. POLST: Portable medical orders for seriously ill or frail individuals
A declaration for mental health is a document that allows you to state the care you would like to receive if you have a mental illness or experience a mental health crisis. It covers consent to:
- Receive electroconvulsive treatment.
- Receive psychotropic medicine.
- Be admitted to a mental health facility.
This document allows you to name someone to make decisions about your mental health treatment if you are unable to make them yourself.
Make Your Wishes Known
Talk to a family member, friend, physician or clergy member about your wishes.
Ask a person you trust to be your agent to speak on your behalf when you cannot.
Put your wishes in writing by completing advance directives documents.
Always bring a copy of your advance directives documents with you when visiting any healthcare provider.