Whether 21-years-old or 81-years-old, medical crises may occur at any time and can leave people unable to make decisions about their health care for themselves. Even if otherwise healthy, preparing for the unexpected and the anticipated effects of age and time may help people ensure they receive the medical treatment they would want.

The term advance directive refers to the various legal documents used to guide physicians and family members in the event of incapacity due to serious injury or illness. Depending on their situations and needs, advance directives may include living wills and medical powers of attorney.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, should they become permanently unconscious or mortally injured or ill, living wills dictate to people’s treating health care professionals how they want to be treated. This document may include people’s preferences about the types of life-saving treatments they would or would not want, as well as any conditions that may affect their choices. For example, a person may not want CPR performed on them after suffering serious injuries from which they will not recover. However, in the event of a heart attack with a positive prognosis, that same person may wish to receive CPR to stay alive.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical power of attorney allows people to name another person to act as their personal representatives in the event of incapacity. Should a medical condition or severe injury render them unable to speak and make decisions for themselves, the person named as their medical power of attorney may bear the responsibility of making decisions not addressed in their living wills. Those named as health care agents through medical powers of attorney should make decisions in accordance with the wishes of those whom they represent, as well as advocate on their behalf in the event of disagreements about their medical care.