Depending on the state in which you live, a living will may also be known as an advance directive or a health care directive. Regardless of the name, living wills allow you to make decisions about your own health care that will apply if you are unable to speak for yourself. Many people do not like think about the conditions in which a living will might apply, and consequently put off creating one. However, creating a living will can help to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Provided here is a basic overview of living wills.
Power of Attorney
This is sometimes part of a living will, and sometimes a separate document. A power of attorney allows you to select a person, known as your health care agent, to make medical decisions on your behalf. In most states, the power of attorney will take effect only if you are unable to make or communicate your own decisions. However, some states allow the option of an immediate power of attorney. With that option in place, your health care agent is allowed to make decisions on your behalf at any time. Although the health care agent will never be allowed to override your personal decisions, an immediate power of attorney can allow the health care agent to step in immediately if you are incapacitated, without taking the extra step of having you declared incapacitated.
You are entitled to limit your health care agent's power. However, most people prefer to give total control of medical decisions to the health care agent. Of course, you will want to select an agent that you trust to always consider your best interests.
Life Prolonging Measures
A living will allows you to determine whether you want life prolonging measures to be used on you. This may include CPR, surgery, a respirator, and other measures. You are allowed to be as specific as you want. For example, you may request that life prolonging measures be used only when there is reasonable expectation of recovery. Or you may consent to CPR and surgery, but not to being placed on a respirator. The choice is entirely yours.
Do Not Resuscitate
A Do Not Resuscitate order, often known as a DNR, is an order that expressly forbids efforts to resuscitate you. This type of order allows you to die a natural death. However, you must understand that a DNR is usually all-encompassing. It is important to discuss this order and its possible ramifications with your health care provider before making a decision.
Food and Water
It is possible for medical technology to keep people alive in a permanent vegetative state for decades. Refusing food and water can allow you to pass away in a short time from dehydration.
Palliative care is medical care that is provided to keep you comfortable in your last days. Even if you refuse life prolonging measures and food and water, you are still entitled to palliative care. If for any reason you do not want this, you must expressly refuse it.
The Bottom Line
A living will allows you to make your own health care decisions even when you are incapacitated. In most cases, a properly prepared living will is treated as a legal document and cannot be superseded after the fact, although you are always entitled to cancel or change its terms.
Questions & Answers: Living Wills