Facts on a Living Will

by Andrine Redsteer

A living will is a legal document that informs your loved ones and physicians about your wishes regarding end-of-life care. Although state law varies, living wills generally contain provisions relating to life-prolonging medical treatments. A living will won't do much good if your family members and physicians don't know about it, so you may want to register it online at the U.S. Living Will Registry. The U.S. Living Will Registry will store your living will in a database that's accessible to health care providers. You may also distribute copies to your family members and physicians so your wishes are known. If you need living will forms, LegalZoom.com offers them tailored to meet your specific needs.

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Withhold Treatment

A living will may direct your physician to withhold certain types of life-prolonging procedures upon your incapacity. For example, a living will may direct a physician to withhold artificial nutrition and hydration in the event you cannot speak for yourself. It's important to note that a physician may not withhold these types of treatments unless you've become unable to express your wishes as a result of a terminal illness or you are in a persistent and irreversible vegetative state. If you do not have a terminal illness and you become temporarily incapacitated, you may receive respiration, hydration and nutrition. In other words, treatment may not be withheld unless there's very little chance that your condition can be reversed.

Do Not Withhold Treatment

Your living will may also direct physicians to administer whatever life-sustaining treatment is available. For example, your living will may state that in the event you slip into a persistent vegetative state or become terminally ill, you do wish to have artificial respiration, hydration and nutrition. In other words, you may direct health care providers to undertake "heroic efforts" to prolong your life.

Doctor's Certification

Although each state has its own living will requirements, it is generally required that two physicians agree and certify that you have an irreversible or terminal illness or that you are in a persistent vegetative state from which you are unlikely to ever recover. It is only after two physicians have agreed to this prognosis that the provisions of your living will take effect. In other words, if you have a chance for recovery, your living will may be ineffective.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A living will differs from a power of attorney for health care. Under a power of attorney for health care, you name an agent who makes medical decisions for you upon your incapacity. A power of attorney for health care may direct your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf regarding life-prolonging procedures and even organ donation. Because a power of attorney for health care gives an agent, or "health care proxy" the authority to make such important decisions, these documents must often be notarized and witnessed. You can have both a living will and a power of attorney for health care because these documents work together. The person you designate as your agent in the power of attorney for health care document can look to your living will for guidance regarding your end-of-life care.