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What is the Difference Between a Living Will and an Advance Healthcare Directive? 

Maybe you have spent time in the medical field or have begun planning your own wishes regarding the future of your medical care. If so, you are probably familiar with the terms “living will” or “advance healthcare directive.” But what, specifically, are they? How do they differ from each other? And most importantly, how do they apply to you?

When planning a successful future, everyone deserves to have all relevant tools at their disposal. These simple explanations will help you embark on a path toward ensuring your wishes will be followed in the future.

What is a Living Will?

Living wills are documents that state your desires regarding medical treatment if you cannot voice your own decision. Think of it as written documentation carrying out your will or wishes while still alive. A living will ensures that decisions you have made for yourself while you are still mentally and physically able to do so are executed in line with your own feelings on the subject.

A living will can include various choices regarding your medical treatment, including but not limited to:

  • Instructions concerning organ donation
  • Wishes regarding your end-of-life arrangements
  • Specifications on religious or philosophical beliefs you wish to be observed
  • Opinions on treatments or medications you wish to decline or accept
  • Directions on whether or not you want your life prolonged, such as via life support or feeding tube, and for how long

While a living will is a type of advance healthcare directive, it only covers certain areas.

What Are the Other Advance Healthcare Directives?

An advance healthcare directive is a collection of legal documents that activate in the event that you cannot communicate your wishes, be it temporary or permanent. This can include circumstances such as slipping into a coma or becoming otherwise incapacitated.

We’ve covered what a living will does above. What else does a person need to designate their wishes for future medical care? Other essential documents may include:

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders
  • Do Not Intubate (DNI) orders
  • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
  • Organ or tissue donation wishes
  • Directives regarding your mental health care
  • Healthcare Proxy (sometimes referred to as a Power of Attorney)

Why is Having an Advance Healthcare Directive or Living Will Important?

Advance directives are paramount to your medical future and your family’s peace of mind. Prior proper preparation for life’s unknowns allows you to sleep peacefully. It can be a relief knowing that if you were ever in a situation where you were unable to communicate your wishes, you’ve provided a road map for your loved ones to follow. Should the time come when a proxy is needed to carry out your medical wishes, a living will and a complete set of advance healthcare directives is the best tool you can give them.

How Do I Create a Living Will or Advance Healthcare Directive?

If you’re thinking that you’d like to get your affairs in order, don’t hesitate. It’s never too early to begin planning for the future. Reach out to an experienced lawyer with a background in estate planning. To learn more, call our law office today at (805) 244-5291.

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Estate Planning Attorney Eric Ridley