A “Living Will” is a legally-enforceable written statement that indicates your preferences regarding end-of-life treatment. It applies if you are unable to communicate those preferences. Living Wills are not just for the elderly. People of any age can lose capacity. They may have an accident, suffer a serious injury, or develop a disability at any point.

Your living will doesn’t pass assets and property to your heirs like a standard last will and testament. Instead, it advises your doctors and family about how you want to receive medical care and places limits on certain treatments.

This document can bring your family comfort in times of uncertainty, knowing they understand your health care wishes. Creating it can bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones, knowing there is a plan for medical emergencies. Here are seven things you should know about living wills:

  1. Rules for Living Wills Vary by StateThe United States Supreme Court established minimum standards for enforceability of living wills. Specifically, you must list the various measures that you don’t want. A statement indicating no “heroic measures”, as was typical prior to the 1990s, no longer suffices. But beyond that, the rules are established by State law. In Pennsylvania, a Living Will, referred to as a “Statement of Health Care Treatment Instructions”, applies to people who are in end-stage terminal illness and who meet specified standards indicating an inability to make or communicate health care decisions. Another requirement for Pennsylvania living wills is stating whether or not you consent to donate your organs and tissues for purposes of transplant, medical study or education.
  1. Your Living Will Is a Binding Legal DocumentDon’t rely on an informally written document or verbal consent as your living will. You must document your health care wishes before you lose capacity, in compliance with state law. The language in the document must legally address instances of lost capacity, permanent unconsciousness, or a terminally ill diagnosis.
  1. Medical Doctors Determine the Incidence of Loss of Capacity

    Whether you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious, unable to communicate, or incapable of making rational decisions, a medical doctor’s assessment, and usually a second opinion, puts your living will into effect. In Pennsylvania, physicians may refuse to honor living wills which they deem in violation of their ethical standards. Another physician must step in. Consequently, it’s prudent discuss your wishes with your doctors to ensure they will comply with your instructions.
  1. You Can Change Your Living WillYou can revoke, revise, or create a new living will at any time. However, simply destroying the old copy complicates the connection it may have to other estate planning documents or files. Your estate planning attorney can help you fully and formally revoke or modify this document correctly.
  1. There Is a Difference Between an Advance Directive and a Living WillNumerous types of advance directive documents exist. The more familiar include a health care power of attorney, living will, and do-not-resuscitate order (DNR). A living will is a subset of the advance directive. It specifically expresses your medical treatment preferences in the case of terminal illness.
  1. Younger People Need One, TooAdults of all ages can benefit from implementing this legal document. Seemingly healthy young individuals can suddenly become ill or injured. Create your living will sooner rather than later. Putting this task off could leave you in an unfortunate situation if you face an accident or serious illness.A living will does more than express your desire to remove yourself from life support under certain conditions. It can specify the kinds of care you prefer, including medical techniques, life-sustaining treatments, and devices you would (or would not) accept. For example, consider whether you would want physicians to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), feeding tubes, or ventilators. You can also outline your wishes regarding pain management, palliative care, and clergy visitation. But George Vasiliadis, an attorney with the law firm of Vasiliadis Pappas Associates, cautions against trying to be too specific in your living will. “Specific decisions may be better made by your health care agent under a properly-drafted health care power of attorney at the time a crisis occurs and specific circumstances are known.”
  1. Ensure You Have a Health Care Power of AttorneyThis legal tool provides an individual the right to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. Appointing a health care agent under a health care power of attorney is not the same as your living will, but it is part of the estate planning process. The person you name as your health care agent should understand your wishes regarding emergency treatments and end-of-life care. That person will have the authority to enforce your living will.

Estate and Retirement Planning

Advance directives, such as living wills, are an important component of estate and retirement planning. The lawyers at Vasiliadis Pappas Associates have helped many families with these legal tools. We can help you too. Call us!