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What is a living will?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2021 | Estate Planning

Estate planning ensures your family receives the proper care after you are gone. However, it can also provide a safety net for you should you experience a major illness or injury.

According to the Mayo Clinic, living wills provide legally binding instructions to medical staff on how to proceed when a patient has a life-threatening condition. These documents are crucial for people of all ages, as they ensure you receive medical treatment according to your wishes.

What information do living wills include?

Living wills contain details on different types of medical treatments and procedures common in end-of-life scenarios. This may include:

Palliative care

Palliative care is a treatment that does not prolong life but instead provides comfort to patients. For example, administering pain medication is a form of palliative care. Palliative care can take place at home, or it can take place in a hospital setting.


People often use living wills to provide directives regarding CPR, which manually re-starts the heart after a cardiac event. Language on defibrillators, which provide an electric shock to the heart to re-start it, is also common.

Mechanical ventilation

In the event a patient is unable to breathe on their own, medical staff can use mechanical ventilation to breathe for them. Living wills can specify whether a person wishes to receive mechanical ventilation, and if so, for how long.

Do I also need a healthcare power of attorney?

Many people combine living wills with a healthcare power of attorney, which is a representative who can make legal decisions on your behalf. Powers of attorney are another essential aspect of estate planning, as they can communicate your wishes directly to medical staff, as well as family. They also advocate for you when you are not able to clearly define what types of medical treatments you wish to receive.

When naming a power of attorney, look for a person that you trust to make decisions in your best interests. The person must not let their personal beliefs or feelings interfere with their duties. You can also name a backup just in case your original choice is unable to fulfill the role.

After creating a living will make sure copies are accessible by your healthcare power of attorney and family. You can also provide a copy to your primary care physician, who will share it with the doctors providing emergency care.