Estate planning clients often ask us” What is a Living Will?”. A living will is a legal document that contains a person’s preferences and instructions for medical and end-of-life care should he or she become incapacitated and cannot express those decisions or make those decisions themselves. It is called a “living will” because it is effective only when the person who signed it is still alive.

It is sometimes called a healthcare directive or an advance medical directive, and it includes information about the medical treatments that should and should not be administered, whether or not resuscitation should be performed, and whether or not certain life-prolonging medical treatments should be administered if the need arises.

What is the Medical Directive?

A living will contains two main parts: The medical directive and an end-of-life situation directive. The medical directive gives instructions for decisions regarding the owner’s medical treatment. It dictates which treatment and medical devices (e.g., feeding tubes) can be used for the person’s survival. This includes palliative treatment like pain management, and life-sustaining medical care such as mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, and dialysis. A person can opt to receive any or all of these treatments if necessary; he/she can also choose not to be treated with some or any of them.

Another important component of the living will is the medical agent selection. The person creating the living will assign a medical agent who will act on his/her behalf to make medical decisions if he/she becomes incapacitated and can no longer make medical decisions.

living will medical agent

What is the End-of-Life Directive?

The second part of the living lists the procedures and parameters allowed if the individual is receiving end-of-life care. The individual can make a decision whether he/she wants to be kept alive as long as possible, or he/she would prefer to not receive life-prolonging treatment if there is little likelihood of recovery or improvement.

A do not resuscitate (DNR) order gives instructions regarding a person’s preferences for CPR. This order is usually written by a doctor or medical provider and depends on several factors like age, medical condition, diagnosis, prognosis, and quality of life.

In Summary

Many people think that estate planning has to do with what happens after one passes away, but at least half of estate planning involves planning for what happens while one is still alive. A living will is one of the vitally important documents that should be included in every estate plan.

If you have any questions or you are interested in creating a living will, contact us. We’d be happy to discuss more about the details of a living will and help you create an estate plan.