Planning Ahead: How to make future health care decisions now


Who will make decisions concerning your health care if you become incompetent or disabled - your spouse, your child, a close friend, a judge? When these decisions are made, will your wishes be known and followed?

Documents known as "advance directives" allow you to answer these questions. Illinois law recognizes four types of advance directives:

  • Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Living Will
  • IDPH Uniform Do Not Resuscitate Order form
  • Mental Health Treatment Preference Declaration (used only by psychiatric facilities)

Power of Attorney for Health Care permits you to name someone, called an agent, to make health care decisions for you in any situation where you are unable to do so. Through the Power of Attorney for Health Care, you may also leave specific directions regarding your medical care including life-sustaining treatments. By designating someone you trust to act on your behalf, you are able to control decisions concerning your future medical treatment.

A Living Will is a document that allows you to state in advance what types of medical treatment you do or do not desire in case you develop a terminal illness. Typically, a Living Will directs medical personnel not to use death-delaying procedures if you develop an incurable and irreversible condition. In appropriate circumstances, death-delaying procedures might include assisted ventilation, artificial kidney treatments, intravenous feeding or medication, blood transfusions, tube feeding and other procedures that serve only to delay death.

How does a Power of Attorney for Health Care differ from a Living Will?

A Power of Attorney for Health Care is much broader than a Living Will. A Living Will is a short form stating you do not want life-sustaining treatment used if you develop a terminal illness. A Power of Attorney for Health Care, on the other hand, is not limited to situations where you have a terminal illness. It allows you to designate an agent to make health care decisions for you in any situation where you are unable to do so. A Power of Attorney for Health Care also permits you to leave specific directions for your agent to follow when making decisions regarding your health care treatment.

If you do not wish to be kept alive by life sustaining treatment, you should consider signing both a Living Will and a Power of Attorney for Health Care. Most states (including Illinois) have statutes authorizing Living Wills, but many states do not provide for Power of Attorney for Health Care.

DMH Living Will and Power of Attorney Form

Do-Not-Resuscitate Order (DNR)

A DNR is a medical treatment order stating that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) will not be attempted if your heart and/or breathing stops. A DNR order completed on the IDPH Uniform DNR order form allows you to say in advance that you do not want CPR. The order form is also a physician order that requires a physician signature. This form is honored by all healthcare providers (emergency medical services and ambulances, hospital, nursing homes etc.) You should complete the IDPH Uniform DNR Advance Directive only after extensive discussion about treatment preferences with your immediate family members and your physician. Items for discussion with your physician should include your preferences regarding administration of CPR if your heartbeat and/or breathing stops.

Decatur Area Center for Living Wills at Decatur Memorial Hospital

This information is not intended to replace or serve as legal advice. You are encouraged to consult your attorney regarding any specific questions on Power of Attorney for Health Care or Living Wills. Forms for both these documents are available at the Decatur Area Center for Living Wills at DMH. You may deposit your completed Power of Attorney for Health Care or Living Will document at Decatur Area Center for Living Wills at DMH. By securing your documents at the Center, any health care provider will have 24 hours a day, 365 days a year access to them in the event they are needed. IDPH Uniform DNR forms are not kept on file in the Living Will Center. If you have a DNR, you need to bring the form with you when you come to the hospital. For more information about the center or Living Wills and Power of Attorney for Health Care, call DMH at 217-876-4310, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., or, email your request to us through our web site.