Description of Advance Directives, Living Wills, and Code Status

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Description of Advance Directives, Living Wills, and Code Status

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

It may be hard to think about, but planning for old age is a good idea. There are a number of tools available to people who want to provide guidance to their family or medical professionals about medical treatment or other important decisions when they are no longer able to make those choices on their own. Advanced directives, living wills, and code status are three tools that allow you to provide instructions or direction for your health care if you ever become incapacitated.

Man and woman talking while holding a tablet

Benefits of Planning Ahead

These planning tools allow you to make your wishes known about what type of treatment you want, when to stop treatment, what medications you prefer, and other healthcare decisions. Without these instructions, a medical professional will do what they think is necessary, but that may not be what you would have authorized.

In other instances, family members may disagree about what you may have wanted. Planning ahead avoids these conflicts and ensures that your wishes are known even when you can't voice them yourself.

Advanced Directives

An advanced directive is a document that provides instructions for doctors and other health professionals concerning your wishes for medical treatment should you ever become incapacitated. This document can include things such as what type of care you want to receive for life-threatening illnesses or injuries, what type of medications you do or do not want to be prescribed, and what types of surgery you authorize.

When you draft this paperwork, you should assign a health care proxy, which is the person to whom you give authority to convey your wishes. It should be noted that as opposed to living wills, advanced directives are not legally binding. Thus, while they are taken into account, a doctor is not bound to oblige by the directive if they feel it is unwise to do so.

Code Status

The term code status is used by hospitals to describe what treatment a person should receive if their heart stops beating, if their lungs fail, or if any other life-ending event happens. The most well-known code status is "do not resuscitate," which communicates to your doctors that should a life-ending event occur, you do not wish to be resuscitated. If your heart stops, they will not perform CPR. If your lungs fail, they will not hook you up to an automatic breathing machine.

A person may also wish to include instructions about feeding tubes, pacemakers, or other procedures in their instructions. These instructions are meant to supplement an advanced directive.

Living Wills

As opposed to a last will and testament, a living will is a type of advanced directive that provides instructions about whether to administer life support or other medical intervention in the event that you become terminally ill or suffer an injury with little to no chance of recovery. This document is legally binding in the majority of states. In states where it is not binding, it is still taken into account by healthcare professionals as evidence of a patient's wishes.

Advanced directives, code status, and living wills are a great way to communicate your wishes even when you are no longer able to physically do so. If you want to take advantage of these life planning tools, be sure to familiarize yourself the laws and requirements in your state.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.