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Living will, proxy, advance directive, POA, DNR, POLST... What does all of this mean?

Don’t panic.


Knowing the fancy terms is far less important than covering your basics. And the fancy terms change their meanings anyway depending on your state or country, so again, start by focusing on the basics.


Here are the basics:

-Choose a person who will make medical decisions if you can’t speak for yourself.

-Tell the people around you what’s most important to you.

-Make sure that the important stuff is documented and available when it’s needed.


Even the basics are pretty intimidating, and that’s why we’re here: to help you choose the right agent, guide the conversation and handle the paperwork.



If you still need to make sense of the terms, here goes:

Advance Care Plan: The whole package. A meaningful, documented plan in the hands of everyone who needs it.


DNR order: A specific doctor’s order that tells paramedics, health care teams and everyone else that you don’t want your heart restarted if it stops beating. Stands for "do not resuscitate." Not to be decided lightly.

Living Will: This term has different meanings in different states, but usually it’s a document or statement about what care you’d want or not want in different situations. Living wills are usually heavy on the legalese. They’re not always good at sharing values or predicting complicated situations.


Advance directive: Same as a health care directive. It’s the general term for a document that names your agent and expresses your care preferences.


Health care directive: Same as an advance directive. It’s the general term for a document that names your agent and expresses your care preferences.


POLST: A POLST is like an advance directive, but more serious and powerful. It’s only for people who are extra sick or frail, and it gives very specific orders about what to do in an emergency. Healthy people should not have a POLST. Sick people should only have a POLST if they’ve had a detailed conversation with their doctor first. Sometimes called POST, MOST, MOLST, etc.


Power of Attorney (POA): A power of attorney for health care names the person you want making medical decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. There’s also financial power of attorney, which names the person who can manage your money. Same name, two very different jobs.


Proxy: A legal-sounding word for the person who will make decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. Also called an "agent."


If it's still confusing, that’s understandable. Put the basics first, and lead with your values.


You’re ready, and we’re ready to help.

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