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Palm Springs Law Blog

Monday, November 28, 2022

What to Include in Your Living Will

A living will is not the same as your last will and testament. Your living will describes your wishes while you are still living but unable to communicate. Specifically, your living will tells your family, doctors, and the courts how to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Read on to learn about what to include in your living will in California.

Living Wills, DNRs, and Healthcare Powers of Attorney

California law refers to living wills as advance health care directives. These directives explain your wishes for providing or withholding medical care.

Your advance health care directives could become effective if you:

  • Cannot communicate
  • Lose consciousness
  • Lack mental capacity

Living wills are not the same as DNRs. DNR stands for do not resuscitate. Doctors and hospitals use DNR forms to protect themselves if the patient requests that doctors refrain from resuscitating them.

While DNRs communicate your wishes to your doctors and family, they usually only apply to a specific procedure or hospital stay. Living wills, by contrast, cover any medical situation where you cannot communicate your wishes.

Living wills also differ from health care powers of attorney (or durable powers of attorney). A health care power of attorney tells doctors and judges who will make your medical decisions on your behalf. But they do not give any guidelines.

Living wills give guidelines but do not identify who will make the decisions for you. In California, the statutory form combines your health care power of attorney with your advance health care directives so that doctors, judges, and family members know who will make the decisions and what they should decide.

Issues to Include in Your Living Will

Under California law, an advance health care directive addresses five issues:

End of Life Decisions

Your living will should identify your wishes when you:

  • Have an incurable and irreversible fatal condition
  • Have lost consciousness and will not likely regain consciousness
  • Have a condition where the risks and burdens of extending your life will not outweigh the benefits

Some people want to continue medical treatment until death. Others want to end medical treatment when no hope for recovery exists. You can also choose a more nuanced option. For example, you might instruct that doctors should provide treatment unless you suffer brain death or enter an incurable vegetative state.

This section can also address when doctors should or should not withdraw nutrition. At the end of life, you might not require extraordinary medical treatment to stay alive. You might remain alive for as long as you receive food and water. But you might also never regain consciousness or recover from your injury or disease.

Palliative Care

Palliative care refers to pain management. In some cases, the pain you experience might be so severe that managing it would potentially shorten your life. Additionally, pain medications often have side effects.

Most people want doctors to do everything they can to manage their pain. But some do not want to sleep all the time and feel spaced out when awake. You can provide your instructions for when doctors should provide pain treatment.

Tissue and Organ Donation

You should explain whether doctors can use your tissue and organs for transplants. This section can also address whether doctors can keep you alive until taking your organs for transplantation.

Other Wishes

You can add to California’s statutory list of issues. For example, if your religion prohibits blood transfusions, you should include an instruction to that effect here.

You can also give your wishes about where to receive treatment. About 70% of Americans say they want to die at home, while only about 25% actually do. Your living will can request that doctors send you home at the end of your life.

Preparing a Living Will

California has several legal requirements for an advance health care directive. The state provides a statutory form that meets these requirements. But in many cases, a living will fits into a larger estate plan.

To discuss the role of a living will in your estate planning, contact Heritage Legal, PC, an estate planning law firm in Palm Springs, CA.


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