What if my state doesn't have a POLST form?

You can leave instructions for your health care even if your state doesn’t offer a POLST form.

Don’t be concerned if your state isn’t yet on the list of those offering POLST forms. The main benefit of a POLST form is that it allows health care providers to gather and store your important emergency or end-of-life health care wishes in one easy-to-find place in your medical records. However, there are other standard health care forms -- available in every state -- that allow you to convey the same set of wishes to your health care providers.

Making Health Care Directives

To cover the same ground as a POLST, you need to prepare the forms below that are relevant to your situation, and then do what you can to ensure that health care providers are made aware of your wishes. Here are the forms to consider:

Living will. A living will documents the type of care you want (or don't want) if you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. It may go by a different name in your state, such as “advance directive” or “health care declaration.” A living will bears no relation to the conventional will or living trust used to leave property at death; it's strictly a place to spell out your health care preferences. To learn more, see How to Write a Living Will.

Durable power of attorney for health care. This document does the important job of appointing someone you trust to be your health care agent (sometimes called an attorney-in-fact for health care, health care proxy, or surrogate) to make any necessary health care decisions for you and to see that doctors and other health care providers give you the type of care you wish to receive. In some states, it is combined with a living will in a single document called an “advance directive.” To learn more, see Choosing Your Health Care Agent.

To find the rules for making a living will and durable power of attorney in your state, including what those documents are called where you live, see Create a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney in Your State.

DNR order. A DNR order contains instructions for emergency medical personnel who might treat you if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. It tells them that you don’t want them to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), artificial breathing tubes, electric heart shocks, or other invasive emergency techniques on you. To learn more, see Do Not Resuscitate Orders.

Helping Health Care Providers Understand Your Wishes

The best way to be certain that medical professionals know and understand your health care preferences is to create a durable power of attorney for health care, naming the trusted person who will alert health care providers to your wishes when necessary. You may also want to consider giving copies of your health care forms to:

  • your doctor or other regular health care providers
  • the office of any hospital or other care facility in which you are likely to receive treatment
  • the patient representative of your HMO or insurance plan
  • immediate family members, and
  • close friends.

Finally, you can find out whether your state has an advance directive registry where you can put your documents on file. (The easiest way is to do an Internet search for “advance directive registry” and the name of your state.) Some hospitals and doctors check these registries before providing care to patients.

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