Question: What is a Living Will?

Answer: a Living Will is a healthcare document that specifies your wishes in an end-of-life situation.  Not to be confused with a Last Will and Testament which disposes of a person’s property after passing, a Living Will tells a person’s loved ones and medical professionals their wishes regarding medical treatment if they are suffering from a terminal or incurable condition from which they will not recover.

A Living Will can specify a number of different preferences regarding treatment in an end-of-life medical situation.  A Living Will can state that a person does not want any medical treatment that would only serve to artificially delay the moment of their passing, and instead state their wishes about passing naturally.  A Living Will may also state that a person wants CPR, hydration, nutrition or other medical procedures in these types of situations.

The importance of having a Living Will was made famous by the Terri Schiavo case.  Terri was a 26 year old woman who collapsed in her home in full cardiac arrest.  After months in a coma, Terri’s doctors declared that Terri was suffering from a persistent vegetative state from which she would not recover.  After years of attempted therapy, Terri’s husband asked the Florida courts to have Terri’s feeding tube removed, claiming Terri would not want to continue life prolonging measures given her incurable medical condition.  Terri’s parents disagreed and claimed that Terri would have wanted to be kept alive, despite her medical prognosis.  Years of legal battles ensued between Terri’s husband and parents, each side claiming they knew what Terri would have wanted in this situation.

If Terri had created a Living Will her wishes about medical treatment in this type of end-of-life situation would have been made clear.  Not only would this have preempted the fighting between her husband and parents, it would have also relieved the weight her loved ones must have felt trying to determine what Terri would have wanted.

We draft Living Wills for clients as one document in a set of healthcare directives.  These healthcare directives include a Healthcare Power of Attorney which specifies an agent to make medical decisions for a person if he or she is unable to do so, a HIPAA Authorization allowing medical professionals to release HIPAA protected medical information to a person’s healthcare agent and the Living Will.  Please call us at (480) 699-7992 to discuss creating healthcare directives individually or part of a comprehensive estate plan.