In discussions of estate planning, most of the emphasis is often placed on what happens after you die. However, not all estate planning documents pertain to death. A living will provides instructions on what end-of-life care you want to receive if you are no longer able to make your own decisions. It is also sometimes referred to as an advanced directive or a health care directive.
When Does a Living Will Take Effect?
As long as you are able to communicate your own wishes about the health care treatments you want to receive, a living will remains ineffective. However, if you are no longer able to make decisions on your own behalf, the living will goes into effect. Once this occurs, doctors and family members must abide by the desires that you express in your living will. Situations that could prevent you from making your own decisions about your health care include permanent unconsciousness or mental incapacity due to a degenerative disease or severe head injury.
What Is the Purpose of a Living Will?
A living will describes what kind of end-of-life care you do or do not want to receive. Some of the most common directives included in a living will include your wishes on the use of artificial resuscitation or intubation to help you breathe if you stop breathing on your own. Some people prefer to be allowed to die naturally once the body stops breathing. However, if there is no advanced directive in place, doctors may feel that they have a legal and ethical obligation to keep you alive if possible.
Other issues that an advanced directive may address include the following:
- Pain medication
- Artificial hydration
- Tube feeding
You can choose which end-of-life treatments you do and do not want to receive in your living will. For example, you may choose not to have a tube inserted to feed you artificially but opt for comfort care in the form of pain medication.
How Is a Living Will Different From a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney gives someone else that you designate the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you are not able to. A living will takes precedence over a power of attorney because it represents your own decisions. It is often a good idea to have both a living will to express your wishes and a power of attorney to handle any situations not addressed in the living will.
A living will is an extremely personal document. Contact a law office to discuss it with a wills lawyer in Dallas, TX, who can handle it with respect and sensitivity.
Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC for their insight into estate planning and the role of living wills.