What are Advanced Care Directives and the Role of Living Wills in an Estate Plan?
4 min read

What are Advanced Care Directives and the Role of Living Wills in an Estate Plan?

What are Advanced Care Directives? What's the role of a living Will in an Estate Plan? This article provides the meaning and purpose of an advanced care directive. Along with how a living Will can benefit your Estate Plan, with the help of examples!

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Life is unpredictable, and unforeseen medical circumstances can arise at any time. In such situations, clear and legally binding instructions about your healthcare preferences can provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Advanced Care Directives, including Living Wills, are powerful tools that allow you to express your healthcare wishes when they may no longer be able to do so. In this article, we will explore the topic of Advanced Directives, with emphasis on how a Living Will can be a crucial part of your estate plan.

Advanced Directives

Advanced Care Directives are legal documents that outline an individual's healthcare preferences and treatment decisions in advance. These documents come into play when the person becomes unable to communicate their choices due to incapacitation or critical medical conditions. Advanced Directives empower people to maintain control over their medical care, even when they cannot actively participate in decision-making.

What is a Living Will?

The most common type of Advanced Directive is a Living Will. A Living Will type of advanced directive that focuses on end-of-life healthcare decisions. It allows you to provide instructions about the medical treatments you wish to receive or refuse if you have a terminal condition, are in a persistent vegetative state, or have similar situations where you cannot express your preferences to your physicians.

What You Can Include in a Living Will

A Living Will can address various medical decisions and preferences:

  • Life-Sustaining Treatments: You can specify whether you want to receive or refuse specific life-sustaining treatments, such as artificial respiration (ventilation), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding).

  • Pain Management: With a Living Will, you can state your preferences for pain management and comfort care. 

  • Organ Donation: Some Living Wills include instructions about organ donation preferences.

  • Spiritual and Religious Considerations: If your spiritual or religious beliefs influence your healthcare decisions, you can include these preferences in your Living Will.

What You Can't Include in a Living Will

While Living Wills are powerful tools for expressing end-of-life healthcare preferences, there are limitations to what they can cover:

  • References to a Specific Diagnosis: A Living Will cannot provide instructions based on a specific medical diagnosis or condition that may be treatable. It is meant for broader end-of-life situations where a person is terminally ill.

  • Non-Medical Decisions: Living Wills are focused on medical treatments and decisions. They cannot address financial or legal matters, funeral arrangements, or the distribution of assets.

  • Management of Complex Medical Procedures: Living Wills may not cover complex medical procedures or treatments not typically associated with end-of-life care. It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional and an attorney to ensure your preferences are adequately documented. Often, you can use other Advanced Directives, such as Powers of Attorney or Health Care Proxy forms, to manage these situations.

  • Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Orders: DNR Orders are not typically part of a Living Will. You must express your desire for a DNR order separately, specifying that you do not wish to be resuscitated if your heart stops or you stop breathing. This entails getting a physician to write that order and include it as part of your treatment plan.

Examples of Situations Where a Living Will is Valuable

  • Terminal Illness: When facing a terminal illness with no hope of recovery, a Living Will allows you to express your desire to avoid aggressive life-prolonging treatments you do not want. You also have the right to state that you want measures to keep you alive.

  • Persistent Vegetative State: If you are in a persistent vegetative state and unlikely to regain consciousness, a Living Will can specify your preferences regarding the use of life-sustaining treatments.

  • Incapacitation Due to Dementia: People who are worried about losing their cognitive abilities due to conditions like dementia or Alzheimer's may use a Living Will to outline their preferences for care and end-of-life decisions.

  • Avoiding Family Disputes: Having a Living Will in place can help prevent family disputes and reduce the burden on loved ones who may otherwise be forced to make difficult decisions on your behalf.

  • Peace of Mind: Many individuals create Living Wills as part of their comprehensive estate planning to ensure their medical choices align with their values and beliefs. They rest easier knowing that they have planned for every eventuality.

Make a Living Will Part of Your Estate Plan

A Living Will is a kind of Advanced Directive that empowers you to make informed decisions about your end-of-life healthcare. It provides a legal framework for expressing preferences for or against certain medical treatments when one is unable to communicate with one's physicians and loved ones. While Living Wills have specific limitations on what they cover, they offer invaluable guidance in challenging medical situations and help ensure a person's wishes are respected. Use FastWill to create a Living Will that aligns with your values and preferences.

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