Vantage Point Legal Services LLC

Living Wills

WHAT IS A LIVING WILL?

Living Wills, Health Care Declarations, Health Care Directives and Advance Directives are all essentially the same documents, dealing with essentially the same issues, and so they will be addressed under the common term “living will.”

A living will is a document that a person may sign indicating their desire that certain medical treatment either be withheld or withdrawn under certain circumstances. The durable power of attorney for health care gives another person the authority to make general medical decisions without directly instructing the attorney-in-fact as to exactly how to make the decision under certain circumstances, but simply giving broad discretion to make the best decision at the time. The living will goes further by actually instructing the holder of the power how to make certain decisions under certain stated circumstances. For instance, the holder may be specifically directed to withhold or withdraw all life-sustaining care and treatment (including without limitation administration of nourishment intravenously or by tubes connected to the digestive tract), and directed that no cardiopulmonary resuscitation shall thereafter be administered in the event the patient becomes “brain dead” and later sustains cardiac or pulmonary arrest. Specifically, under such circumstances, after becoming “brain dead”, a person may direct that the following shall be withheld or withdrawn:

  1. All life-sustaining care and treatment
  2. Artificially supplied nutrition by feeding tubes or IV
  3. Heart-Lung Resuscitation or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation or CPR
  4. Surgery or other invasive procedures
  5. Antibiotics
  6. Dialysis
  7. Respirator or mechanical ventilator
  8. Chemotherapy
  9. Radiation Therapy
  10. All other “life-prolonging” medical or surgical procedures that are merely intended to keep a person alive without reasonable hope of improving the person’s condition or curing any illness or injury

HOW IS A LIVING WILL MADE?

Any competent person 18 years of age or older can make a living will by signing and dating a properly drafted statement similar to that shown above before two witnesses. These witnesses must be at least 18 years old, and must not be related to the person signing the declaration, a beneficiary of his or her estate or financially responsible for his or her medical care. The statement can be typed or handwritten. It is recommended that a living will be considered and prepared in advance of any hospitalization or impending surgery. It is not something anyone should feel pressured to decide in a short period of time, if that can be avoided.

REVOKING A LIVING WILL

Once made, a living will can easily be revoked or cancelled, either orally or in writing, prior to becoming incapacitated. If possible, it is advisable to gather and destroy all copies of the living will if you desire to revoke them. By statute, health care providers are required to note a revocation of a living will in the medical records of the patient.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTH CARE

If you have a durable power of attorney for health care (see section above) which appoints someone to make health care decisions for you, do you still need a living will? The answer is yes, if you want to go beyond the flexible decision-making authority granted in the durable power of attorney and actually instruct your agent to make certain decisions on your behalf under certain specified circumstances. In fact, it is common practice to combine a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will into one document.