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21November 19

What Is a Living Will?

Living wills are designed to spare your loved ones from having to make difficult end-of-life decisions regarding your treatment. By making your wishes clear, you can avoid hardship caused by quarreling loved ones each of whom believe they know what’s best for you. In this article, we’ll answer the question: What is a living will?

Understanding Living Wills

When you’re no longer to advocate on your own behalf, a living will provides the means by which you can tell doctors and loved ones what type of treatments you want to extend (or not extend) your life. This includes issues such as hospice care, continuing life support, and which medications you do or do not want. This is different than a last will and testament. A living will determines what doctors should do while you’re still alive but unable to advocate for yourself. A will determines what will happen to your estate after you die.

Living Wills vs. Advanced Directives

Advanced directives are a category of items that include your living will. They also include a DNR (do not resuscitate), directives concerning organ and tissue donation, instructions concerning a specific illness, and your medical power of attorney. Essentially, your living will can include all of these items.

Living Wills and Medical Power of Attorney

If you become incapacitated while injured or ill, you can assign a trusted relative, spouse, or friend the power to make decisions concerning your health care. This person is said to have medical power of attorney and also known as a health care proxy. Your health care proxy cannot overrule the decisions set forth in your living will, but may have a more nuanced understanding of what you want.

What Should You Include in Your Living Will?

There are a number of questions you should answer in your living will. These include: 

  • What should happen if I can no longer breathe on my own?
  • If you can no longer feed yourself, do you want feeding tubes?
  • What kinds of pain management drugs would you authorize?
  • Do you want a DNR (do not resuscitate) or DNI (do not intubate)?
  • Do you plan on donating your organs when you pass? 

You can also include specific instructions concerning how to manage certain conditions that you have. 

When Does a Living Will Take Effect?

Living wills go into effect as soon you are unable to communicate and advocate on behalf of yourself but you are still alive. If you are in a coma or otherwise incapacitated, your living will takes effect immediately. However, if you were to regain consciousness or can advocate on your own behalf, the living will would cease to be in effect.

Why You Need a Living Will

Having a living will saves your family the difficulty of making complex medical decisions on your behalf, guessing about what you would want, and gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes will be carried out regardless of your condition. 

California Living Will Requirements

All states have their own rules and requirements when it comes to living wills. In California, a living will is legally binding if it is signed by two witnesses, one of who is neither related to you or a beneficiary of your estate. This can be a trusted family friend or an attorney. Likewise, you cannot choose a medical provider or an employee of a health care facility (unless they are a domestic partner or a blood relation). For those in skilled nursing facilities, one of the witnesses must be a patient advocate.  

While living wills do not have to be notarized, some choose to have them notarized anyway. An attorney can help you draft a valid living will in the state of California.

What is a Living Will?

Your living will protects you from procedures, therapies, surgeries, and medications that you don’t want and gives your family the peace of mind that they are executing your wishes. Talk to the Herbert Law Office today for more information on setting up a living will, durable power of attorney, and advance health care directives. 


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