How to Recognize a Living Will

by John Cromwell

A living will, also known as an advanced directive, is a document drafted by an individual describing what care he wants to receive should he become incapacitated. Recognizing a living will can mean one of two things. Recognition could be about identifying whether a document is a living will. However, using the legal definition, recognition could be about making sure that a doctor accepts the terms of the living will and abides by its conditions. Every state has some legal provision that grants living wills the authority to dictate care for a patient.

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Step 1

Check to make sure the document is a living will. Oftentimes the document will be titled with some variation of "The Living Will Declaration of" followed by the name of the person in question. If such a title does not appear, but the content of the document discusses how the person should be cared for in certain circumstances, such as if he becomes incapacitated, the document would still qualify as a living will.

Step 2

Check to make sure it is properly executed. To be valid, the drafter must have been over the age of 18 and competent. The will must be written down and witnessed by someone. Depending on where you live, the witness cannot be someone who is related to the patient by blood or marriage, someone who will inherit from the patient, someone who is financially liable for the patient’s care, the patient’s doctor, or a person named as the patient’s medical power of attorney. If the living will is not validly executed, you will not be able to get it recognized.

Step 3

Talk to the treating physician. Generally, a patient will draft a living will in consultation with his family doctor, so in most cases the doctor will be aware of the living will and be prepared to comply with its standards. If the treating doctor is not the patient’s family physician, have the family doctor contact the treating doctor. If the family doctor is unavailable, provide the treating doctor with a copy of the living will.

Step 4

Transfer the patient to another doctor if the current physician refuses to accept the living will. A doctor has the right to refuse to comply with the will, and cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for refusing to end treatment that is sustaining a patient’s life. However, if a doctor does refuse, she must transfer the patient to a doctor or medical facility that is prepared to follow the terms of the living will.