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Living Wills and Healthcare Directives

 A living will can also be known by other names such as a personal directive, advance directive, medical or healthcare directive or advance decision.  In different countries, it may be known by a specific name (ex: in the U.K. it is referred to as a Living Will).  

Here it is referred to as a “Living” Will because the individual is still alive but no longer able to make their own decisions and it is a legal document.  It is used to authorize someone to make medical decisions in your behalf, based on the instructions given by you, if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.  This may be as a result of being incapacitated or having an illness or condition that no allows you to communicate instructions to others.

Many people choose to set up both a Living Will and a Healthcare Directive to provide comprehensive guidance regarding future medical care but the same person should be authorized in each document to make those important decisions. 

A living will can provide specific directives about what course of treatment healthcare providers and caregivers are to follow.  In some cases it may forbid the use of some burdensome treatments and can be used to give detailed instructions about foregoing food and water if supplied by tubes or other devices.  A living will can be very specific or very general.   It may contain the phrase: “If I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued.”  By instructing others on what you would prefer well before any stressful event, you can help them be at peace with their role in your care.

Your attorney can help in the preparation of legal documents that will outline your future medical care but you should always discuss your wishes with the person(s) you name and let them know you have taken formal steps to make that situation easier for them.