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What is the Difference Between a DNR and an Advanced Directive?

DNR Order, or Do Not Resuscitate form, is used when deciding how to treat a patient who has suffered injuries or illness and needs to choose medical options that align with their wishes. It’s a legal document signed by both you and your healthcare provider, letting emergency responders or other healthcare workers know whether or not to perform CPR or provide additional medical assistance.

Typically, people choose to opt out of chest compressions, ventilation breathing, defibrillation, intubation, and cardiotonic drugs. Most forms let you decide which of these measures, if any, are allowed.

Your doctor must also sign the form, confirming that you were aware of and understood each measure and made your choices accordingly.

What is an Advanced Directive?

An advanced directive is a written statement by a patient or someone with decision-making capacity regarding the patient’s care. This form is usually used when patients can’t make decisions for themselves due to health issues or other reasons.

For example, someone with a dementia diagnosis might sit down with loved ones and trusted individuals to discuss their preferred medical procedures. An advanced directive allows you to name a trusted person (an agent) to make decisions about your medical treatment on your behalf as your condition progresses and you’re no longer able to make those decisions yourself.

What Does an Advanced Directive Cover?

In California, part one of this document typically lets you name your agent. This form can also be used alongside a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Your agent should be someone you trust deeply and who understands your healthcare preferences so they can communicate your wishes to medical staff.

Part two of the document allows you to give specific directions about your healthcare, such as how you’d like pain to be managed, when to withdraw life-saving measures, and more. If you’ve chosen an agent, this section might not be necessary, as your agent will already know your preferences.

The rest of the form covers organ, tissue, or other body part donations, and whether you’d like to appoint a specific physician to handle your care, especially when the time comes.
Another important section is when the agent’s duties become effective. You can usually choose whether the responsibilities take effect immediately or when your primary care doctor decides it’s time for your agent to step in. The timeline can vary based on your illness or injuries and whether you can plan in advance (e.g., terminal cancer or dementia) or not.

Can I Revoke or Make Changes to a DNR or Advanced Directive?

You can change or revoke your DNR or Advanced Directive at any time. As life changes and we age, our perspectives and decisions might change too. By having the option to revoke or edit these forms, you and your family aren’t locked into a specific direction.

Sometimes, the agent you choose may no longer be alive, or you might have a good reason to choose someone else. You can change your agent at any time and revoke the original document. You might also consider selecting a backup agent if your primary agent is out of state, has health issues, or can’t fulfill their duties for other reasons.

Do the Forms Need to Be Notarized?

Most DNR forms don’t require notarization. Both you and your primary doctor must sign the document, but a notary isn’t needed. Two witnesses must also sign, confirming that you were of sound mind when creating the document. This is an alternative to having the document notarized. Check with your local city or county to determine your best option.
For an Advanced Care Directive, either notarization or signatures from two witnesses are required. Many people choose to have this document notarized to ensure its legality.

Do I Need an Estate Plan?

You might think you don’t need an estate plan or that your assets are simple and already taken care of. However, almost everyone can benefit from an estate plan, if only to help avoid unnecessary taxes or lengthy probate court proceedings that your loved ones would have to deal with.

A well-thought-out estate plan ensures that your loved ones know your decisions and wishes during the end of your life and after you’re gone, providing comfort when they need it most.
Contact me today at (805) 244-5291 for a free, friendly, and confidential consultation. We can help alleviate questions and reduce stress for your family during their time of grief.

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Estate Planning Attorney Eric Ridley