What You Should Know About Advance Directives, Living Wills, and Estate Planning

Law Blog

People thinking about estate planning issues often end up focusing on questions of what happens after they pass. However, there are concerns in this field that can emerge while you're still alive. This is especially the case when it comes to medical issues and incapacitation.

Such problems are covered mostly by advance directives and living wills. Let's explore three things an estate planning attorney wants their clients to know about these topics.

What Are Advance Directives and Living Wills?

An advance directive and a living will overlap enough conceptually that folks frequently use them interchangeably. In the strictest sense, all living wills are advance directives, but not all advance directives are living wills. An advance directive is a set of instructions that dictates what others should or shouldn't do if you're incapable of making healthcare decisions. Some people will call this a medical directive. A living will is an advance directive that kicks in if you are terminally ill.

What Is Power of Attorney for Medical Decisions?

Notably, advance directives only take force if you're unable to express your wishes about treatment or end-of-life care. A power of attorney provides more flexibility, and you can limit it to medical care decisions. What the power of attorney does is provide a designee the ability to represent your interests in deciding medical questions if you're incapacitated.

The distinction between an advance directive or a living will is that the power of attorney vests decision-making in a person rather than a document. If someone must make judgment calls while you're incapacitated, this is likely to speed up the process. Especially if someone needs to reassure a medical professional about potential liability while considering an experimental treatment, for example, this can make a huge difference.

Why Are These Legal Directives Necessary?

Much of it boils down to simply making sure your wishes will be followed. If you have strong disagreements with people close to you about certain medical choices, a directive may be beneficial. For example, you might have a family member who disagrees with you on when to terminate life-sustaining care. These directives ensure that no one with legal standing can intervene and counter your wishes.

Some family members also benefit from having a person's wishes laid out straight. This allows them to feel like critical choices were yours rather than theirs. For some people, this may reduce feelings of guilt in handling end-of-life decisions or approving risky medical procedures. For further clarity or assistance, contact an estate planning attorney. 


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