What Is a Living Will?

Wills & Trusts
elder care

What Is a Living Will?


A living will is a legal document that states a person’s end of life or life-extending preferences.  This document is used when someone is terminally ill, in a coma, permanently unconscious, or determined by a doctor to be unable to make his or her own end of life decisions.  It can also be called an advance directive or, less commonly, a health care directive or a physician’s directive.  The same way that a last will and testament is a necessary component of any complete estate plan, a living will is vital in spelling out one’s decisions about how their life will be handled if it is out of his or her own control.


What a Living Will Covers


A living will covers the direct wishes of an individual.  These common directives include:



-Do Not Resuscitate.  This is an order to not administer CPR in the event that one’s heart has stopped or the patient has stopped breathing.


-If the patient is unable to breathe, the doctor is not required to connect the patient to a respirator.

-Feeding Tube

-If unable to swallow food, the patient may require that he or she does not want a feeding tube.


When To Create and Update Your Living Will


A living will should be created when:

-Surgery or extended hospitilization is possible.

-A terminal condition is diagnosed.

-A complete estate plan is being created.


A living will should be updated when:

-Major life changes occur.  In the event of a divorce, a spouse may have been named as living will agent and he or she needs to be removed.

-Moving to a different state.  Some states do not accept living wills from other states.  Different states may also have different requirements.



How Is It Different Than a Power of Attorney?


A healthcare power of attorney is a document that typically covers all health care decisions, as long as one is incapable of making decisions for his or herself.  A living will is generally concerned with decisions facing a person upon his or her deathbed.  A power of attorney can deal with other concerns when the individual is unable to make decisions but his or her health is not in such a grave situation that the living will is in effect.  A power of attorney gives a healthcare agent the power to make decisions for the individual, whereas a living will agent solely ensures that the individuals’ choices are   carried out. Both a living will and power of attorney should exist to cover all possible scenarios.



Living Will Agent


Selecting a living will agent is supremely important.  He or she ensures that the decisions in the living will are enacted and that the desires of the individual are met.  This person must be a legal adult.  Sometimes the living will agent is a family member, but that is not necessary.  The most important part of selecting a living will agent is being honest about what is crucial and what the intentions of the living will are.  Picking a mature, responsible adult is essential.


Make sure you discuss your living will with your doctor so that he or she is able to follow your wishes.


What is legally recognized varies by state.  Call 856-227-7888 or contact us at [email protected] to discuss the possibilities of creating a living well, as well as with any questions or concerns. We offer free consultations and have locations in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties. We are happy to discuss your legal options.

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