What Is a Living Will?

What’s the difference between a Will and a Living Will and why do I need both?

A Living Will is different from a normal Will.   A Will is a common estate planning document that controls the distribution of a person’s property after he or she dies. It is not effective until death. A living will, however, is effective during a person’s lifetime and serves a wholly different purpose.   Also known as an “advance directive” a living will allows a person, in advance, to give written instructions for medical treatment should he or she become terminally ill and be unable to communicate with a physician or family member. Most states have laws authorizing living wills/advance directives. Arizona’s statutes are found at A.R.S. §36-3201, et.seq. A sample Living Will can be found in A.R.S. §36-3262.

Medical care has become so good that life can be extended artificially for long periods. Physicians often opt to extend life where possible, but this may not be what a patient wants. Few of us want our lives to be artificially extended where we are terminally ill with no chance of recovery. Most want to be allowed to die with some dignity.   This is where a living will comes in.

A Living Will provides a means to control the medical procedures provided to you at a time when you cannot speak for yourself.   In most cases, this amounts to a description of what services are not wanted in the event of a terminal illness. Often, people opt for “comfort care” with instructions that they are to be medicated to be free from pain but other life extending procedures such as feeding tubes, blood transfusions, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and similar services are rejected. In other cases, patients may wish to preserve life as long as possible using current technology. A Living Will can also be drafted with this goal in mind.

Living Wills can be stand-alone documents. More commonly, however, they are used in conjunction with a Health Care Power of Attorney.   A person’s health care agent can supplement the instructions of a Living Will. The health care agent’s authority is more broad and, ideally, the health care agent will be a person who knows the philosophy and wishes of the patient. The agent can use this knowledge to give health care instructions in keeping with what the patient would personally want.

The lawyers at Platt and Westby, P.C. have been practicing in the area of Probate and Estate Administration for over 40 years. Contact any of our Probate lawyers at 602-277-4441 or use the e-mail contact utility on our website at www.plattwestby.com to schedule a no-fee initial conference concerning any Probate or Estate matter. We will answer your questions and, where appropriate, suggest potential solutions.

Platt and Westby, P.C. has offices in Phoenix, Arrowhead, Avondale, Scottsdale and Gilbert, Arizona.