A living will is a staple of a comprehensive estate plan, along with a healthcare power of attorney, durable power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, will, and living trust. In fact, for a couple of reasons, the living will may be one of the most important legal strategies you can implement in your life.
What is a Living Will?
A living will (or advanced directive) is a legal document that sets out your wishes for end-of-life medical treatment. There is a clean line of delineation between where a healthcare power of attorney ends and where a living will begins. A living will relates only to the course of action which shall take place should you find yourself in one of three medical scenarios: 1) you suffer from an incurable or irreversible condition and your recovery is substantially unlikely; 2) you are in a persistent vegetative state and you're unlikely to regain consciousness; or 3) you suffer from advanced dementia or other congnitive degeneration and your recovery is very unlikely. You may then set out your wishes for end-of-life treatment: do you wish to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging measures from that point forward?
Taking the Decision Away From Family
The main purposes of a living will is to 1) make sure your wishes are known and followed; and 2) make sure that your family does not have to make the decision to prolong your life or withdraw life-prolonging measures. Unfortunately, far too many people fail to make these decisions for themselves ahead of time and the emotion of the situation can overwhelm even the most rational of family members. If you don't make the decision head of time, the "safe choice" for your family may be to keep you alive, even if that's not your wish.