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Living Will Basics

The term "living will" is a bit of a misnomer, as living wills are not wills in the traditional sense. A typical will takes effect upon a person's death, providing instructions such as for the distribution of his or her property and other assets. A living will, on the other hand, allows a person to specify medical treatment and care instructions that take effect while he or she is still living. For example, if a person becomes mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to make or communicate health care decisions, a living will provides family members and hospital personnel with the person's medical care instructions and preferences. This section provides information and resources related to living wills and other health care directives. You’ll also find an overview of state living will laws, a sample living will form, and a discussion of a health care power of attorney.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that contains a person's medical care and treatment instructions. The purpose of a living will is to allow a person to express health care decisions while he or she is mentally able to do so. In general, health care providers are required to obey the instructions contained in a person's living will.

What Types of Procedures Are Covered?

States have passed laws covering living wills and other forms of health care estate plans. Because there are differences in these laws, it's important to be fully informed of applicable regulations and requirements as you begin to plan your living will. In many states, a living will allows a person to express instructions concerning the use of a respirator to maintain breathing, the use of procedures such as blood transfusions and dialysis, and the injection of intravenous fluids and nutrients to sustain life. Keep in mind that a living will allows you to both refuse and to accept certain forms of treatment. For example, a person can refuse to undergo blood transfusions while stating an intent to receive intravenous drugs.

The Benefits of Creating a Living Will

A person who creates a valid living will can feel secure in knowing that his or her medical care instructions will be honored. By creating a living will or other similar plan, you can avoid unwanted medical treatments and their associated costs. As an added benefit, your family members and friends will have advance knowledge of your medical and end-of-life care preferences. This can prevent emotional and harmful disputes from occurring.

Health Care Power of Attorney

An alternative to drafting a living will is creating a health care power of attorney. This is a legal document that allows one person to grant another person the authority to make medical care and treatment decisions on the first person's behalf. If you have a trusted family member or close friend who is a medical care professional, a health care power of attorney relationship can be a good idea.

How an Attorney Can Help

If you have questions about living wills and other types of health care estate plans, an attorney can answer them. He or she can also help you to create a living will that reflects your intentions and wishes. This section provides a link for consulting with an experienced estate planning lawyer in your area.

Learn About Living Will Basics