The terms “living will”, “health care directive”, and “advance directive”, all refer to the legal document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care.
A living will, despite its name, isn’t at all like the wills that people use to leave property at their death. A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It has no power after death.
If you’re helping someone with their estate planning (or doing your own), don’t overlook a living will. It can give invaluable guidance to family members and healthcare professionals if a person can’t express his or her wishes. Without a document expressing those wishes, family members and doctors are left to guess what a seriously ill person would prefer in terms of treatment. They may end up in painful disputes, which occasionally make it all the way to a courtroom.
How Living Wills Work
Many states have forms for advance directives, allowing residents to state their wishes in as much or as little detail as they’d like. For example, it’s common to direct that “palliative care”—that is, care to decrease pain and suffering—always be administered, but that certain “extraordinary measures,” like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) not be used in certain circumstances.
To be valid, a living will must meet state requirements regarding notarization or witnesses. A living will can be revoked at any time. The document can take effect as soon as it’s signed, or only when it’s determined that the person can no longer communicate his or her wishes about treatment. Even if it takes effect immediately, doctors will rely on personal communication, not a document, as long as possible.
From: Mary Randolph, J.D. – http://www.alllaw.com