Despite its name, a Living Will is not a Last Will and Testament. One’s Last Will and Testament is a document that individuals use to delineate where they want to leave property upon their passing. A Living Will, also referred to as a “directive to physicians” or “advance directive” is a document that defines one’s wishes with regard to end-of-life medical care in the event they are incapable of doing so. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will has no effect after death.

Living Wills may be as broad or specific as the maker desires. It may include instructions to allow for care that decreases pain and suffering to be administered while rejecting the use of CPR in some circumstances. It may also state that an individual does not wish to receive treatment that will merely allow him or her to remain in a vegetative state.

Utilized in conjunction with a Durable Medical Power of Attorney, an individual can state his or her desires clearly with regard to end-of-life treatment and appoint another to carry out the stated wishes. While these decisions are never easy, it often provides the appointed power of attorney some emotional solace to have the stated desires of the individual set forth in writing.

Much like a Power of Attorney, any authority provided for in a Living Will ends when the individual who made it dies. The only exception is that some living wills or powers or attorney allow an appointed person to make post-death decisions regarding autopsy or organ donation.

Clearly, this important document should be a part of anyone’s comprehensive estate plan.