Living Will

Living will is a type of advance directive that lists a person’s wishes about medical treatment in the event that the person cannot give informed consent or refusal.  A living will commonly includes specific directives on which life-sustaining measures can and cannot be used in cases of extreme disability without reasonable expectation of recovery.

While a typical will takes effect upon a person’s death, providing instructions such as for the distribution of his property and other assets, a living will allows a person to specify medical treatment and care instructions that take effect while he or she is still living.

A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is written, legal instructions regarding person’s preferences for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions because of terminally ill, serious injury, coma or the late stages of dementia. It has no power after death.

Use a living will if:

  • You want to specify your wishes so that it is more likely they will be carried out.
  • You are facing the possibility of surgery or a hospitalization.
  • You want to create a complete estate plan.
  • You have been diagnosed with a terminal condition.

In most states, living wills ask you whether or not you want to receive life-prolonging treatments at the end of life. Such procedures typically include:

  • transfusions of blood and blood products
  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • diagnostic tests
  • dialysis
  • administration of drugs
  • use of a respirator, and
  • surgery.

An alternative to drafting a living will is creating a health care power of attorney. This is a legal document in which you name a person to make decisions for you when you are unable to do so. 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. You may also choose one or more alternates in case the person you chose is unable to fulfill his or her role.

The person you named will normally be permitted to:

  • consent or refuse consent to any medical treatment that affects your physical or mental health
  • hire or fire medical personnel
  • make decisions about the best medical facilities for you
  • visit you in the hospital or other facility even when other visiting is restricted
  • gain access to medical records and other personal information, and
  • get court authorization, if required to obtain or withhold medical treatment, if for any reason a hospital or doctor does not honor your living will or the authority of your health care agent.

If you have any questions about living wills and other types of health care estate plans to decide what’s right for you and your business, contact a lawyer for quick answers or a document review. Qualified attorney can also help you to create a living will that reflects your intentions and wishes.

Thomas Elliott

Education: Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York. Pace University, White Plains, New York.
Professional Associations and Memberships: American Bar Association, New York State Bar, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Brooklyn Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

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