Living Wills and Powers of Attorney

Accidents or illness can happen at any time, rendering an otherwise healthy person unable to make decisions on his or her own behalf. A living will allows a person to decide, in advance, how they would like to be treated if they become incapacitated or are afflicted with a terminal condition.

A terminal condition can refer to a persistent vegetative state, in which a person's death is imminent if not for the support of medical technology. If you do not want to put your family members in the difficult position of determining when to discontinue life-prolonging treatment, it is prudent to specifically document your wishes in a written legal document. Through a living will, you can be assured that your wishes will be followed at the end of your life rather than having your fate decided by people whose values may not align with your own. Furthermore, a living will can be useful in preventing conflict within your family regarding your final wishes as different family members may have competing ideas about the proper or best course of action.

What is a Living Will?

A living will, also called an advance directive, allows you to provide instructions for your health care at the end of your life. It allows you to proactively make decisions regarding your treatment in case you are injured or otherwise incapacitated and no longer able to make decisions on your own behalf. You can indicate your preferences regarding artificial life support techniques.

A living will is separate and distinct from a will that distributes your personal assets. A living will specifies your health care preferences in the event that you are faced with a terminal condition. In a living will, you can specify whether you would like life-prolonging treatment and at which point you wish the life-prolonging treatment to be withdrawn. You can also choose to include a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) order. A DNR prevents paramedics or other emergency responders from performing CPR if your heart stops. You can request that your doctor put a DNR in your chart.

Living wills are limited because it is impossible to predict, in advance, every potential health care issue that may arise. Thus, it is a good idea to also designate a power of attorney for health care to make decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to designate someone to make health care decisions on your behalf in case you become incapable of doing so. This person does not need to be a close relative, but they do need to have your best interests at heart and be able to make rational decisions about your treatment.

End of Life Conflicts

Living wills became a subject of national debate following the Terry Schiavo case. In that case, Schiavo existed in a vegetative state after suffering cardiac arrest and remained in the hospital on life support. Her husband petitioned the court to remove her feeding tube after she remained unresponsive to treatment. Her parents opposed the petition. After a series of highly publicized court battles that continued for over seven years, Schiavo’s life support was terminated.

A living will can prevent the disputes that occurred during the Schiavo case. By providing clear instructions about your health care preferences, you relieve your loved ones from making the difficult decision of attempting to guess your wishes.

Contact an Attorney to Learn More about Living Wills

If you are looking for an estate planning attorney, contact the Conejo Valley Law Group for more information.