A comprehensive estate plan contains far more than a last will and testament. It also contains a number of documents to communicate wishes for decisions to be made during life. These include a living will, an advance directive, and a healthcare power of attorney, as explained in the article “What Is a Living Will and Do I Need One?” by healthline.
What is a living will?
A living will is a document providing instructions for medical care, or in some circumstances, for the termination of medical support. They indicate wishes for the use or discontinuation of life-sustaining medical treatments. The living will is used if the individual becomes incapacitated and cannot communicate normally. Incapacitation is determined and certified by a medical professional. Living wills address such treatments as resuscitation, hydration, a feeding tube, and pain management.
Each state has its own rules for creating a legally valid living will. The information required in most states is:
- Legal name and any aliases or nicknames.
- The current day, month, and year.
- A statement attesting to being of sound mind and body.
- Healthcare instructions for events with no reasonable expectation for recovery or quality of life, which may include CPR, DNR (do not resuscitate), and do not intubate (DNI).
- The name of your healthcare proxy, the person who you want to communicate and state your wishes, and the name of an alternate healthcare proxy if you have one.
- Witness statements indicating you willingly and rationally signed this document (the number of witnesses varies by state).
- Your legal signature.
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An advance directive is not the same thing but can include a living will. The advance directive has two parts: the living will and the healthcare power of attorney. These documents don’t address finances, property distribution, guardianship of children, or any non-medical matters. For those, you need a last will and testament.
The healthcare power of attorney is a document identifying the person named to make healthcare decisions for you. It’s sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney. The person you name to make decisions is called your healthcare proxy, healthcare agent, or healthcare surrogate. This document does not address end-of-life care but instead grants legal permission to the person to make decisions for you.
The living will advance directive and healthcare power of attorney work together to allow someone else to represent you during a medical crisis. These documents should be created by an experienced estate planning attorney and shared with the people you choose, so they may act on your behalf. Unfortunately, we never know when a medical crisis or accident will occur, so these documents are needed at any age and stage of life.
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