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Advance Directives

Each time you visit your physician, you make decisions regarding your personal health care. You tell your doctor about your medical problems. Your physician makes a diagnosis and informs you about available medical treatment. You then decide what treatment to accept. That process works until you are unable to decide what treatments to accept or become unable to communicate your decisions. Diseases common to aging such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may take away your ability to decide and communicate your health care wishes. Even young people can have strokes or accidents that may keep them from making their own health care decisions. Advance directives are a way to manage your future health care when you cannot speak for yourself.

It is important to discuss your advance directives with your family and health care providers. Your health care wishes cannot be followed unless someone knows your wishes. You may change or cancel your advance directives at any time as long as you are of sound mind. If you change your mind, you need to tell your family, health care representative, power of attorney, and health care providers. You might have to cancel your decision in writing for it to become effective. Always be sure to talk directly with your physician and tell him or her your exact wishes.

If you do not have an advance directive and are unable to choose medical care or treatment, Indiana law decides who can do this for you. Indiana Code § 16-36 allows any member of your immediate family (meaning your spouse, parent, adult child, brother, or sister) or a person appointed by a court to make the choice for you. If you cannot communicate and do not have an advance directive, your physician will try to contact a member of your immediate family. Your health care choices will be made by the family member that your physician is able to contact.


Download our patient information sheet about Advance Directives. For additional information, visit the Indiana State Departments of Health Advance Directives Online Center. The site includes links to state forms, links to Indiana statues and other helpful resources.