What are Living Wills?
Living Wills are sometimes also called “Physician’s Directives” and “Directives to Physicians and Healthcare Surrogates.” Living Wills are the instruments that tell physicians, family, and friends a person’s end-of-life wishes. Living Wills take on many forms, but they most typically deal with two categories, terminal conditions and irreversible conditions.
A terminal condition means an incurable condition caused by injury, disease, or illness that according to reasonable medical judgment will produce death within six months, even with available life sustaining treatment provided in accordance with the prevailing standard of medical care.
An irreversible condition means a condition, injury, or illness that may be treated, but is never cured or eliminated; that leaves a person unable to care for or make decisions for the person’s own self; and that, without life‑sustaining treatment provided in accordance with the prevailing standard of medical care, is fatal.
End-of-life treatment is never a happy topic to ponder, but it can remove a lot of stress from the family and friends making healthcare decisions. The patient may leave any instructions he/she desires, but the instructions will typically start with the same options.
(i) The patient requests that all treatments other than those needed to keep him/her comfortable be discontinued or withheld; or
(ii) The patient requests that he/she be kept alive in the terminal or irreversible condition using available life sustaining treatment.
The patient may change the wording to add/delete different care options. In addition, the living will should include a definition page to clearly define what types of cares fall under certain definitions.
Living wills are usually drafted as part of the estate planning process, but they may be drafted and executed at any time the patient possesses the capacity to make those healthcare decisions. Copies of living wills should be provided to the named agent in the medical power of attorney, along with the primary physician. In addition, living wills may be amended, revoked, and replaced at any time.
If you have any questions about living wills, feel free to contact your estate planning attorney and your primary physician.