Living Will

Updated on April 5, 2024
Article byPriya Choubey
Edited byCollins Enosh
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Living Will Definition

A living will is a legal document containing the patients’ instructions regarding their medical treatment in case they are unable to make decisions for themselves owing to illness or incapacity. Therefore, it is also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive.

A person admitted to a hospital for a grave injury or disease may be unable to communicate. In such situations, the medical personnel follow the instructions of the advance directive. However, the decision on whether to provide life-sustaining treatment or not should be clarified. This document directs healthcare personnel on whether to provide life-sustaining treatment or not. In the absence of a living will, healthcare decisions are taken by the spouse, family member or a responsible third person.

Key Takeaways

  • A living will provides patients’ instructions regarding specific medical procedures when the person is medically incapable of decision making.
  • It states an individual’s crucial end of the life care decisions related to life-sustaining procedures, palliative care, and organ donation.
  • An advance healthcare directive is compiled by the state laws and remains valid till the person is breathing.
  • In the absence of an advance directive, the spouse or family members can take the crucial healthcare decisions.
  • Advance healthcare directives can be filled online or downloaded. It needs to be notarized with two witnesses. Alternatively, some avail the services of a legal advisor to draft this legal document.

How Does Living Will Work?

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A “living will” applies when the person is unable to communicate his decisions regarding healthcare. This document enforces the Terminal patients’ right to make healthcare decisions.

The advance directive contains information concerning the use of life support systems, dialysis, CRP, tube feeding and organ donation post-death.

Making a Living Will

A person can generate an advance healthcare directive by filling up a living will form. Various websites are facilitating an e-form filling and download option. Alternatively, the standard format can be downloaded, and the hard copy details can be filled in. Some appoint legal advisors for creating such a legal document, albeit an expensive option.

Advance Health Directive Details

While drafting advance directives, patients must understand all the healthcare directions that are to be included. Therefore, The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends the inclusion of crucial details. Mentioned below are the essential pointers that need to be specified in the document.

  • The patient’s wishes to get any life-prolonging procedures or continuation of it in case there are no chances of recovery need to be mentioned.
  • Any special care or treatment desired, such as tube feeding, artificial hydration, dialysis, or CRP, needs to be mentioned. Information regarding the patient’s religious and spiritual beliefs should be provided.
  • Palliative care decisions should be included. The patient’s permission for invasive procedures should be included, if any. If not, patient’s wish to breathe their last at home should be specified.
  • Organ or tissue donation post-death is crucial information.

This document stands valid after its notarization. In addition, the signature of two witnesses is required. A person can invalidate an advance healthcare directive at any point in time.

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Living Will Examples

After a lengthy legal battle, Terri Schiavo was disconnected from life support in 2005 and subsequently died. Terri spent the previous 15 years in a coma. In 1990, Terri collapsed in the hallway of her apartment, waking her husband Michael, who called Terri’s family and 911. Unfortunately, Terri suffered a cardiac arrest. Unsuccessful attempts at resuscitating Terri left her in a coma.

Six years into Terri’s coma, Michael attempted to take his wife off life support, and a Guardian Ad Litem was assigned to review the case. Consequently, in 2000, a judge ordered Terri’s life support removal, but Terri could not be taken out of the coma without a living will designating her actual intentions.

Michael won a substantial medical malpractice award against the obstetrician who worked with the couple on fertility treatments. After the malpractice case judgment, Terri’s parents petitioned the court to remove the husband, Michael as Terri’s guardian.

A prolonged legal dispute took place between Michael and Schieber’s, Terri’s parents. As a result, Terri was in a coma for 15 years. Terri was ultimately taken off life support for the final time in 2005. The Terri Schiavo case highlighted the importance of advance directives.

Living Will vs Will

Though both legally binding documents disclose a person’s wishes, a living will is different from the last will. For example, people make advance healthcare directives when they want to specify beforehand the dos and don’ts of their treatment if they become mentally incompetent in decision making. In contrast, a will mentions the conditions and names of the successors who will inherit a person’s assets after their death.

An advance healthcare directive comes into effect while the Principal or person is still alive but mentally incapable of giving any healthcare consent. The last will activate only after the demise of the Grantor. For advance directives, the Principals themselves select an agent or attorney to execute them. On the contrary, for last wills, only the trustor assigns a trustee for taking care of the assets post-death. Additionally, the trustee delivers the assets to the beneficiaries at the specified time.

Both are crucial for estate planning. If the patient has no living will, all the family members take all the healthcare decisions, primarily the spouse. Also, when there is no last will, the state distributes the deceased person’s estate among the dependents, family members or relatives. Upon death, if a person has no claimant or survivor, the assets are transferred to the state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is a living will the same as a will?

Living will and a will are created for different purposes. A “living will” describes the kind of medical care patients desire when incapable of deciding. In contrast, the last “will” declares the successor of an individual’s assets.

How much does a living will cost?

The cost of an advance healthcare directive varies from one state to another. If patients generate a living will through e-form filling, it will roughly cost $45 to $75, including notarization. However, if an individual takes the services of a legal advisor, it will cost between $250 to $500.

Can family override living will?

No, family members cannot overrule the wishes of the Principal. But, in exceptional cases, to fulfil an ethical obligation or provide better medical care, the attending physician can override the patient’s “advance healthcare directive.”

Does a living will expire?

Until the patient terminates an advance medical directive, the document stands valid till death.

This has been a Guide to Living Will and its Definition. Here we discuss examples, how it works, and how it differs from a regular will & testament. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –

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