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Published on April 15, 2019

What Are Advance Directives?: Q&A with Bob Hamilton, M.Div.

Bob Hamilton, M.Div.

If I get sick and am not going to recover, how do I let my family know what treatment I want?

There are times when people get sick and lose the ability to make decisions and communicate about the treatment they want. Sometimes an illness or an accident will happen, and the victim is near death or unconscious. There are documents available to all adults which allow you to express your end-of-life wishes to health care providers and family, letting everyone know what type of interventions and treatment you want. These documents are known as advance directives.

What are advance directives?

There are 3 basic types of advance directives. They are A Living Will, A Health Care Power of Attorney and An Advance Directive for Mental Health Treatment. These are legal documents provided to every adult by the state in which they live. These documents provide information to family members, loved ones and physicians about what type of care you want in the event you are not able to communicate.

Here are descriptions of each document:

  • Living Will – The Living Will addresses 3 situations in which a person may decline life prolonging treatment which would not help them recover. The person’s signature must be witnessed and notarized for it to become a legal document.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney – This document lets you give medical decision-making authority to another adult in the event a physician determines that you are mentally unable to make decisions. The person given medical decision-making authority can make any medical decision on your behalf, unless you write in specific things you do not want the person to decide. This only applies to health care decisions. It does not give authority for anything other than medical decisions.
  • Advance Directive for Mental Health Treatment – This document is for people who have a mental illness diagnosis which may cause them not to be able to make decisions about treatment. It provides the opportunity to pick treatments which they would or would not agree to accept.

Who can complete an advance directive?

Anyone who is 18 years or older and mentally competent can complete an advance directive. The advance directive becomes legal when it is signed in the presence of 2 witnesses and a notary.

Where can I get these forms?

Advance directive forms used by Cone Health can be found at The forms can be printed for your use. These documents are valid anywhere in North Carolina as well as most other states.

What do I do with my advance directives?

Once you have completed your advance directive forms, it’s important to make sure that they are easy to access if needed. Share them with your health care providers and family members or those who may have to make decisions for yo  and need to know about the information within the documents. It’s also important to keep the original copies of your forms in a place that’s easily accessible, such as in a safe spot in your home.

If you are not able to make decisions for yourself, advance directives can help your family or health care power of attorney and your physician make better decisions on your behalf. It is important to talk with your family, so they understand what life prolonging treatments you are willing to accept. This will enable them to fulfill your wishes if you are no longer able.

About the Author

Bob Hamilton, M.Div., BCC, is the director of Cone Health Department for Spiritual Care and Wholeness and member of the Cone Health Ethics Committee