Are Living Wills Legal in Florida?

by Bernadette A. Safrath

A living will is a legal document that allows you to set forth what types of medical treatment you do and do not want to receive should you become incapable of consenting to such procedures at a future date. In Florida, a living will is legal as long as it meets the requirements set forth in the state's statutes. It is binding unless revoked and must be honored by a treating physician.

Requirements

You have the right to request or refuse any medical treatment that will restore or sustain your life by performing a vital function your body is unable to perform on its own. By signing an advanced directive, called a living will, you can express these wishes to others, namely medical personnel. In Florida, you may make a living will if you are at least 18 years old and have full mental capacity. You must sign the living will in the presence of two witnesses, neither of whom can be your spouse or blood relative.

Health Care Surrogate

You may appoint a health care surrogate in your living will. This is a person authorized to make decisions regarding your medical treatment if you ever become unable to do so. You can choose almost anyone to serve as your surrogate, though that person cannot be someone who witnesses the living will. Other people who are not permitted to be health care surrogates are your physician and anyone from your physician's office or employed by your residential health care facility (nursing home or assisted living). If you are ever declared incompetent or incapacitated by an illness or injury and unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf, your health care surrogate must authorize treatment or the withholding of treatment in accordance with your living will.

Revocation

A living will can be revoked at any time. If you decide to revoke the directive, it is important to notify your physician and anyone else who has a copy of the living will, including your health care surrogate. Revocation is effective if you sign and date a new living will that is substantially different from the original, sign a statement indicating your desire to revoke your living will, or physically destroy your living will by burning, tearing or striking out its provisions. Additionally, if your spouse is your health care surrogate and you get divorced, her authority to act on your behalf is immediately terminated.

Physician's Duty

Unless there is a court order in the alternative, a physician is required to carry out treatment or withhold treatment in accordance with a patient's living will. If a physician is morally or ethically opposed to honoring a patient's living will, she is required to transfer the patient to another physician's care or another health care facility within seven days of the patient's arrival. The physician is responsible for paying any costs associated with the patient's transport.