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Living Wills/Advance Health Care Directives

What Is a Living Will?

A living will, sometimes called an advance medical directive or advance healthcare directive, is a legal document that specifically states a person’s wishes regarding their healthcare should they become incapable of communicating their wishes and are facing terminal illness or are in an ongoing unconscious state.

A Living Will + a Durable Power of Attorney = the Knowledge and Authority You’ll Need

A durable power of attorney appoints a person or “agent” to make decisions about healthcare. It’s the “who” of the equation. A living will is the “what” of the equation; it states what types of treatments and life sustaining procedures a person wants and doesn’t want. Both of these documents should be created when your parent or loved one is mentally sound and able to communicate clearly. Otherwise, it’s too late, and those very personal decisions might be handled by someone the court appoints, depending on where your parent lives.

It’s a Tough Subject, But a Doctor Can Help

Living wills tackle the tough decisions between using treatments that may prolong life for a short time or not using them – knowing that forgoing them will mean imminent death. Living wills do not determine treatment in situations that aren’t deemed life threatening by a medical professional, usually the attending physician. It’s a good idea for your parents or loved ones to speak to their doctor about their decisions before they draw up their living wills. They’ll want to be clear on what the terminology means, and how their decisions might affect their last days.

A Doctor Can Answer Questions About Life-Sustaining Procedures Such As:

  • Surgery
  • CPR
  • Intravenous food and hydration
  • Blood transfusions
  • Heart-lung machines
  • Antibiotics and certain drugs
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Chemotherapy
  • Ventilators

Comfort treatments and pain relief, often called palliative care, are never considered life-prolonging, nor do they interfere with allowing death to occur naturally.

Don’t Let the Names Confuse You

Even though the names sound similar, a living will has nothing to do with estate planning documents such as a traditional will or living trust. In many states, the durable power of attorney and living will can be combined into one document, since they’re complementary and both deal with healthcare issues.

It’s Never Too Early

Even though it’s not a fun subject to delve into, delve you must. Talk to your parents or aging loved ones as soon as you can to make sure they have a living will and durable power of attorney in place, as well as the other legal documents they’ll need. And while you’re at it, think about getting your own papers in order. It really is never too early to communicate your decisions about these deeply personal matters.