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Top 4 Things You Should Know About Living Wills

By Neetal Parekh on September 23, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The term "living will" can be confusing.  Is it a will or a set of instructions?  What does a living will cover?  Do you need an attorney to write a living will?  These are all common queries when it comes to understanding what living wills are all about.

Here are important characteristics about what a living will is, and what it is not.

1. A living will is not actually a will.  That's right, to dispel confusion early on, it should be known that a will or trust is an estate planning tool to determine how your property will pass after your death.  On the other hand, a living will covers how medical decisions will be made for you in an end-of-life health care scenario when you may not be able to convey your preferences.  A living will is also called an advance health care directive.

2. A living will guides health care providers and family members in making decisions regarding your health.  This includes any desire to withhold or continue treatment if a person becomes incapacitated or is determined to be in a permanent vegetative state.

3. Naming a durable power of attorney for health care is also important.  In planning for health uncertainties, it is challenging to anticipate what you would wish for in every possible healthcare scenario. That is why you may opt to complete a durable power of attorney for health care, which confers legal authority to that individual to make decisions regarding your health when you are not able to make the decisions yourself.  A durable power of attorney for health care is valid and recognized in all states. 

4. Living wills are valid in all states and are legally binding on physicians and health care providers.  Completing both a living will and durable power of attorney can let you breath easier knowing that even in decisions that can prove to be the most difficult for your family to make, they will know what you wanted.

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