Whidbey General Hospital

Types of Advance Directives

The three most common advance directives are a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, a living will and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, more commonly referred to as a POLST.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (sometimes called Health Care Proxy or Medical Power of Attorney)

    • Names a person (or persons) you choose to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to speak for yourself.
    • In the absence of a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, Washington state law designates the legal decision-makers in the following order:
        1. Court-appointed guardian
        2. Spouse
        3. Adult children (all must agree)
        4. Parents (both must agree)
        5. Adult brothers and sisters (all must agree)

"I am so glad my wife and I have made our decisions about future medical care. It's a relief knowing that even if we can't speak for ourselves, our wishes will still be carried out."

--Whidbey Island resident

In the state of Washington, advance directive forms do not have to be notarized to be legal documents unless a notary signature area is part of the document.

More resources:

Download a basic Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

Download a State of Washington-specific PDF on advance directives provided by Caring Connections, a website that says it “provides people with information and support when they are planning ahead, caring for a loved one, living with an illness or grieving a loss.”


Directive to Physician (also known as a living will)

    • Explains your wishes and choices regarding care in the event you have a terminal condition and are unable to speak for yourself.
    • Typically addresses topics such as medical nutrition, ventilator support and end-of-life wishes.
    • Provides direction for care, but cannot cover all the possibilities one may face.

Five Wishes book cover

More resources:

The nonprofit organization Aging with Dignity has created the Five Wishes advance directive, which can help you make important decisions about your future care.

Download a basic Directive to Physician (also known as a living will).




Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

    • A POLST is a prescriptive instruction to Emergency Medical Services and your health care team that communicates your wishes related to resuscitation.
    • A POLST is intended for those with life-threatening illnesses, advanced disease, age and/or frailty, to ensure your wishes are communicated to others.
    • Because a POLST “belongs” to a patient, the form should remain with you and travel with you to any setting (home, hospital, nursing home, etc.).
    • A POLST can be initiated by other members of the health care team such as your nurse or a social worker, as well as by your health care provider.
    • To be valid, a POLST must be signed by a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant involved in your care.
    • A POLST should be posted prominently in your home, such as on your refrigerator door, in case you are found unconscious.
    • In the state of Washington, a POLST is generally bright green for easy visibility.

More resources:

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment


The Washington State Department of Health website provides more information on the POLST, including a downloadable form.

Common questions and answers on advance care planning.


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