Frequently Asked Questions

Who developed the Five Wishes advance directive?

The Five Wishes advance directive was created by the national non-profit organization, Aging with Dignity, a leading advocate for the needs of elders and those who care for them. Aging with Dignity founder Jim Towey created Five Wishes with doctors, nurses, lawyers and other experts in end-of-life care to help people of all ages get the treatment they want if they become seriously ill. Jim is an attorney who served as legal counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta for 12 years until her death. He was a full-time live-in volunteer at her home for AIDS patients in Washington, DC. He learned that people are most concerned about maintaining their comfort and dignity when they are very sick. This is why the Five Wishes advance directive addresses the personal, emotional, and spiritual needs of a person, not just the medical and legal ones.

Why should I fill out an advance directive (living will)?

An advance directive like Five Wishes allows you to guide important medical care decisions that might be made if you ever get seriously ill – such as whether to give you life-support treatment. You may think that your loved ones and doctors will know what you want when you are very ill, but in reality, everyone has different wishes and it’s important to make them clearly known. Expressing your wishes in an advance directive like Five Wishes helps empower your family, friends, and doctor to make the best decisions when the time comes, and helps avoid disagreements about what to do. Completing the Five Wishes advance directive can help you and your loved ones gain peace of mind around these difficult decisions.

When do I need to use the Five Wishes advance directive?

The best time to fill out the Five Wishes advance directive is now, before you face a health crisis. Because life is unpredictable, it’s best to be prepared. Anyone over the age of 18 can use the Five Wishes advance directive. It is also a good idea to review and possibly update your Five Wishes advance directive when you experience significant life events like marriage, divorce, having children, or being diagnosed with a major illness.

When does the Five Wishes advance directive take effect?

You will always make your own health care decisions if you are able to talk with your doctor and understand what is being said. The Five Wishes advance directive only takes effect when you are too ill to communicate. If you are unable to make your own decisions or speak for yourself,then your Five Wishes advance directive, and the person you chose to be your healthcare agent, can help direct your care with your doctor.

Is the Five Wishes advance directive a legal document?

Yes. It was written with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law & Aging. It meets the legal requirements of 44 states, but is used widely in all 50, and a federal law requires medical care providers to honor patient wishes as expressed. Seethe advice on page 3 of the Five Wishes advance directive document. Just follow the directions when you sign it.

Does the Five Wishes advance directive meet HIPAA requirements?

Yes, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has ruled the agent or proxy appointed under Five Wishes is treated as the patient's “personal representative” under HIPAA and has the same access to medical records and information as the patient, once the advance directive takes effect.

Can I use the Five Wishes advance directive in my state?

If you live in the District of Columbia or most states, you can use the Five Wishes advance directive and have the peace of mind to know that it meets your state’s legal requirements. If you live in one of six remaining states (Indiana, New Hampshire, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, or Texas) you can still use the Five Wishes advance directive but may need to take an extra step.

What if I don't live in a Five Wishes state?

If you live in Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, or Texas there is an additional step you will need to take to ensure your Five Wishes meets legal requirements. After completing, signing and witnessing your Five Wishes (following all instructions), you will need to fill out and attach your state’s form to your Five Wishes with a note saying “see attached Five Wishes.” Click the button below to find a copy of your state’s specific form.

How do I use the Five Wishes advance directive?

Take the following steps to use Five Wishes:

  • Review the document, possibly with your family as well.
  • Fill it out in ink.
  • Follow directions for signing it.
  • Discuss it with your health care agent and doctor and give each of them a copy.
  • Make sure a copy of your Five Wishes is placed in your medical file by your doctor.
  • Discuss Five Wishes with your family and friends and give them a copy.

Does filling out Five Wishes guarantee that my wishes will be followed?

Your doctor is required to follow your wishes according to the laws of your state. Each state has its own rules and conditions that a doctor must observe, and so your doctor has the final word on when your Five Wishes takes effect. To do all you can to have your wishes followed, make sure you do two things:

  • Pick a health care agent (Wish 1), talk with him or her about your wishes to make sure they understand what matters to you, and confirm they will speak for you if you ever get sick.
  • Tell your family members, friends, doctor - and anyone who might get involved if you become sick - who you choose as your health care agent. Some even make photocopies of their completed Five Wishes and give them to other family members.

Who should be my health care agent?

Anyone age 18 (21 in Colorado) or older can serve as your health care agent, although your state law will likely disqualify people with an obvious conflict of interest, such as your doctor or other health care personnel. You should choose someone you trust to carry out your wishes, and it does not have to be your spouse or adult children. Some people want to appoint multiple health care agents to serve simultaneously, but we advise against it because one agent may disagree with the others. You can write in the Five Wishesadvance directive that, say, you want your four adult children to decide,but if they can’t, then adult child X will decide.

What do I do if I don’t have anyone I can name as my health care agent?

If you do not feel that you have anyone to act as a healthcare agent, then you should complete Wish 2 (the “living will” portion of the Five Wishes advance directive) so that medical personnel can know what you would want or not want regarding artificial life support treatment. Make very sure your doctor has a copy of your Five Wishes advance directive in your medical file. You should also complete Wishes 3-5 so that your caregivers can better understand you and your wishes.

Which is better to have: a living will or a health care agent?

The health care agent and the living will go hand-in-hand,and you are usually better off with both. You need to have a health care agent to speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself, and you need a living will that expresses your wishes in writing. The law generally requires your healthcare agent to make decisions that they feel you would have made if you could talk. The more information your agent has, the better, which is why we advise that you go over your completed Five Wishes advance directive with your health care agent so there is no misunderstanding later.

What if I fill out the Five Wishes advance directive and later change my mind?

You can change your wishes any time you want. It is a good idea to review and update your Five Wishes advance directive at least once a year, or if you have any major changes in your health or your family support network. When you make changes, be sure to inform your health care agent, family, friends and doctor. Destroy all out-of-date copies of the document and distribute copies of your new Five Wishes advance directive.

What changes can I make and which require a newFive Wishes advance directive?

If you’re changing anything in Wish 2 or anything in Wish 1, other than simple contact information, you should complete a new Five Wishes advance directive. Wishes 1 and 2 deal with legal matters where it’s best to be safe. For any other changes, simply strike through (one line) the old information, write in the new in ink next to it, and then initial and date the new entry. Don’t use Wite-Out or obliterate the old entries.

Why are there three choices in Wish 2?

In each of the four most common life-support treatment scenarios, you can answer that you want it; that you don’t want it; or that you want it if your doctor believes it will help, but you want it stopped if it’snot helping. The Five Wishes advance directive is the only advance directive or living will that offers these three options. It allows the health care agent to consult with the doctor and decide“yes” or “no” based on what the facts are at the time. This is why it’s important that you and your health care agent discuss your Five Wishes advance directive so that he or she has a good understanding of what you would want or not want, and under what circumstances.

What does it mean in Wish 2 that “I don’t want anything done or omitted by my doctors or nurses with the intention of taking my life”?

This part of Wish 2 means that you are rejecting any treatment or procedure (or the denial of any) that would be done with the intention of ending your life.

To give an example: An increase in pain medication helps manage pain levels but can have the unintended consequence of hastening death.If a doctor increases a person’s pain medication to help relieve pain and provide comfort, then the intent is not to end the person’s life, it is focused on comfort. However if a doctor prescribes medication in order to hasten the patient’s death, then the doctor is doing so “with the intention” of taking their life.Intention is the key point here.

Can I request physician-assisted suicide in an advance directive if I live in a state where it is legal?

No, in the states where this is allowed each state has it’sown protocols and procedures for requesting it, and none allow this to be done through an advance directive.

Why does the Five Wishes advance directive say in Wish 3 that “I want to be treated with kindness”? Shouldn’t that happen anyway?

Being treated with kindness may look different to different people so we encourage people to be as specific as they desire about what they would want, how they wish to be treated and what they want others to know. Doing this helps caregivers better know you as a person and to better tailor your care to your expressed wishes.

In Wish 5, I can indicate my burial/cremation wishes. Is that legally binding?

No. You are only indicating your preferences. For it to be legally binding, you’d want to sign a “pre-need” contract with a funeral provider or state your wishes in a last will and testament.

What do I do after I’ve signed my Five Wishes?

Once your Five Wishes has been signed and witnessed/notarized, the original document should be placed in a location where it can be easily obtained if needed, such as in a desk or posted on your refrigerator. There is also a wallet card that should be cut from the document then signed and put in your wallet. We highly recommend scanning and providing scanned copies of your completed and signed Five Wishes to your Doctor, Healthcare Agent, and other loved ones.

Who can be my witnesses and what do they witness?

Witnesses confirm that you are the one who signed your advance directive and that you were of sound mind, without duress or being coerced to sign it. They do not have to agree with or even see your wishes, just see that you are the one signing. Most state laws disqualify certain people from serving as witnesses, usually those with a conflict of interest, such as a relative or beneficiary. Be sure to follow the witness instructions on page 10 of Five Wishes.

Do I have to have my Five Wishes advance directive notarized?

If you live in North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, or Missouri you must have your Five Wishes notarized.

If you live in any other state, notarization is not a requirement.

What if I don’t know the signing and witnessing requirements of my state?

There are witnessing and signing instructions on page 10 of the Five Wishes advance directive that will tell you about your state. You can also check your state law to see if your state offers notarization as an option in lieu of having two witnesses.

What if I travel a lot? Will my Five Wishes advance directive be honored wherever I go?

An advance directive that meets the legal requirements of the state in which it was signed will be honored in all 50 states under reciprocity.

Can I use the Five Wishes advance directive if I don’t live in the United States?

While the Five Wishes advance directive was written for use in the U.S., it is used around the world as an expression of people’s wishes, both medical/legal and personal/spiritual. Though some countries do not have a legal structure for health care agents, most healthcare professionals want to honor patient wishes, so any written expression of your wishes is helpful.

I received a “redemption code” for a Five Wishes Online document, how do I use it?

Five Wishes Online is an electronic version of the Five Wishes advance directive that allows you to complete the document on your computer and print it out in any of 29 languages. If you have a redemption code for Five Wishes Online, use this link. If you don’t have a redemption code, you can purchase Five Wishes Online here.

Are there other benefits to having Five Wishes Online?

Yes. We will store your FWO data in a secure environment, and you’ll have free unlimited access to it for one year in case you want to make changes. You can come back years later to make changes and we’ll still have the data. There is a $3 fee to de-archive your document, which restarts the one-year free access clock anew.

What is “activating” my Five Wishes and do I have to do it?

Activating your Five Wishes advance directive gets you free information and resources. You do not have to “activate” it but doing so will allow you access to those free resources. Please know that we do not sell, share or give your private information to anybody.

What if I have more questions?

Contact us and we will do the best we can to answer your questions.