Why a living will is important…and why it is not.

A living will is a typical part of an estate plan. Frequently, a living will is part of an Advance Medical Directive, which also includes the designation of an agent to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself. Medical providers will frequently ask if you have a living will when you are going in for any type of medical procedure.

What is a living will?

A living will is a document that states your desires in the event certain life altering (and potentially life ending) events occur. As I said, a living will “states your desires.” It does not require a medical provider or your agent follow those stated desires. There is no court of law that will uphold your stated desires in a living will over the instruction of your health care agent.

So why do I need a living will?

You need a living will so your health care agent (or your medical providers, in the absence of a health care agent) knows your desires. These desires should not only be stated in your living will but you should also communicate your desires to your agent personally. Your stated desires help your agent make decisions based on those desires while also allowing the agent to take into account the circumstances. It also helps your agent feel better about making difficult decisions (such as a “pull the plug” decision). In fact, I frequently refer to a living will as a “feel good document” for just that reason.

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