Health Care Directives

Authored By: Minneapolis - Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
Click on "PDF" to print or see this resource Contents

Click on "PDF" to print or see this resource


What is a Health Care Directive?+

A Health Care Directive is a document that lets you leave instructions about your health care and name a “Health Care Agent.”  A Health Care Agent is someone you choose who can make decisions about your health care when your doctor determines you can’t make decisions yourself.

You may name an Agent without leaving instructions about your care OR you may leave instructions without naming an agent.

There is a sample Health Care Directive form attached to this fact sheet. Or you can

Or you can create a Health Care Directive online at

  • Click on “Health Care and Other Powers”
  • Click on “Health Care Directive”

This is a step-by-step interview that lets you print out a completed form when done.

What must a Health Care Directive include?+

  • It must be in writing.
  • It must be dated and state your name.
  • It must be signed in front of a Notary Public OR witnessed by 2 people.
  • It must name someone to make decisions for you (Health Care Agent) and/or give health care instructions.

Who can be a Health Care Agent?+

Your Health Care Agent must be 18 or older.  Pick someone you know well who will follow your wishes, act in your best interest and who will be available to your health care providers.  Anyone can be your Agent except a health care provider or employee of a provider giving you care, unless you are related to that person by blood, marriage, registered domestic partnership or adoption.

You may also say in the Health Care Directive why you want that person to be your Agent.

It is very important to talk to the person you name as your Agent to be sure they are willing to make your health care decisions when it may become necessary.  You also want to make sure they know what your wishes are for your health care.

Can more than one person be my Health Care Agent?+

You may name one or more Agents or alternates.  If you do, you should also say if the Agents have to decide things together or if they may make decisions independently.

What powers will my Health Care Agent have?+

Unless you limit your Agent’s powers, your Agent will automatically be able to:

  1. Consent to, refuse or withdraw medical or health care treatment on your behalf.  This includes intrusive mental health treatment.
  2. Stop or not start care which is keeping you or may keep you alive.
  3. Choose your health care providers.
  4. Choose where you will get your health care.
  5. Decide if you will live in your home, or a hospice, or a nursing home.
  6. Review your medical records and have the same rights that you would have to give your medical records to other people.
  7. Visit you when you are a patient at a health care facility.

If you want to limit these powers, you must say so in the Directive.

Are there other things I can give my Agent permission to do?+

Yes.  You may give the Agent permission to do other things if you specifically say so in the Health Care Directive:

  1. To decide if you want to donate any parts of your body, including organs, tissues, and eyes when I die.
  2. Say what you want done with your body after your death (cremation, burial).
  3. You can also give your Agent permission to make your health care decisions even if you could still make decisions yourself.

When can the Health Care Agent take over decisions?+

The Agent takes over decisions when:

  • Your doctor thinks that you cannot make your own decisions, or
  • When the Health Care Directive says the Agent can take over.

What is the job of the Health Care Agent?+

The Agent should make health care decisions as if they were you.  They make sure the Health Care Directive is followed and should get legal help if it is not.

Can I cancel the Health Care Directive?+

Yes.  You can cancel all or part of the Directive by:

  • Destroying the document.
  • Telling another person to destroy it.
  • Making a written and dated statement saying what part of the Directive you want to cancel.
  • Verbally stating that you want to cancel the Health Care Directive before two witnesses.  They do not have to be present at the same time.
  • Making a new Health Care Directive.

Where should I keep the Health Care Directive?+

Keep it with personal papers in a safe place where others can find it, not in a safe deposit box.  Give signed copies to doctors, family, close friends, the Agent who helped you write it and an alternate Agent.  Ask to have it put in your file at your doctor’s office and the hospital, home care agency, hospice or nursing home.

Are my old “Living Will” or “Durable Health Care Power Of Attorney” papers valid?+

Only if they were signed before August 1, 1998.  If you update or make new papers, you must use the new Health Care Directive, not a “Living Will” or a “Durable Health Care Power of Attorney.”  It is a good idea to update your forms, and this may be the time to do it! 


You may use the form at the end of this fact sheet.  The last 2 pages are a Health Care Directive worksheet.  You do not have to do the worksheet part, but it can help you decide about health care needs and can be added to the rest of your form if you want.