Advance Directives: What, When & Why

A cancer diagnosis is often overwhelming and, if you are undergoing treatment or living with metastatic disease, you may feel you have little control over your situation. Pursuing advance directives can allow you a bit of confidence that you have a say in future medical treatments by legalizing your personal wishes.

What are Advance Directives?
Advance directives, according to the American Cancer Society, are legal documents that inform your doctors about your wishes for healthcare treatment. Advance directives can include documents such as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, a living will, Power of Attorney designation (POA), and even funeral wishes.

When Should I Pursue Advance Directives?
It is wise to pursue advance directives as soon as possible. In fact, many adults without cancer pursue advance directives with their attorney to assure their personal wishes are carried out in case of emergency. 

Your advance directives can change over time, and as your health warrants. You can modify your choices with your attorney at any time, as long as you are of sound mind.

Why Should I Have Advance Directives?
Your advance directives documents give you final say in your care and treatment. You can choose to discuss your options with your physician or medical team, as well as your family. Working with an estate planning attorney in your state can also assure all of your documents are legal.

Quick Tips

  • Find a local estate planning attorney to begin your planning.
  • Talk to your doctors and medical team about any questions you may have about your condition or disease outlook.
  • Don’t go to your attorney appointment alone. Invite your partner, or other close loved one to come with you.
  • Talk about your choices ahead of time. You should not make major decisions about your advance directives when you are feeling depressed or anxious. If you are worried about your decisions, talk about them with your counselor, treatment team, or family.
  • If your family disagrees with your decisions, invite them to talk about it in a family counseling session.

“Advance directives are important for all adults, but especially those with serious medical challenges,” says Krystal Pierce, a Minnesota practicing attorney who specializes in estate planning. “I work with clients to have a personalized plan that can include everything from a living will to DNR to funeral wishes. There is a vast array of selections, and those can be changed as medical needs increase or decrease.”


Haley Burress has served special populations, including seniors, cancer survivors, and adults with developmental disabilities, for more than 15 years. She strives to give family and professional caregivers, as well as patients, reliable information and realistic ways to connect with one another. She currently writes for a variety of healthcare services agencies. When she is not writing, you can find her hiking any trail with her husband, 8 year old son, and dog.

  • August 27, 2018