In the title, we’ve posed a question frequently asked by clients: should I have an advance directive or a living will? While concern about end-of-life treatment or health care during dire medical circumstances is legitimate, a great deal of confusion surrounds the terms themselves.
The laws that regulate these legal orders vary by state, making it a challenge to pin down a definition that applies everywhere at all times. The matter is further muddied by overlapping usage of the terms.
Let’s start to clear the waters by identifying the major similarities and differences between advance directives and living wills. Then, we’ll move on to a comparison of the unique interpretation of the legal orders by two different states. In the end, we’ll consider exactly what you need to safeguard your wishes in the event that you’re incapacitated by a life-threatening or debilitating injury or illness.
What do advance directives and living wills have in common?
Both living wills and advance directives are instructions drawn up to provide direction to medical professionals and loved ones regarding your desires should you be unable to make those desires known. In the event that you are incapacitated by a coma, dementia, or another severe health event, both communicate your wishes regarding life-sustaining efforts. This relieves pressure and anxiety placed on loved ones during an already stressful time.
How are advance directives and living wills different?
While both describe your preferred health care during an extreme health crisis, an advance directive includes a power of attorney as well as. A healthcare proxy is named to make decisions on your behalf regarding critical, highly emotional decisions such as do-not-resuscitate orders, the use of feeding tubes, and organ donation, among other issues.
A comparison of two states’ health care directives
In Arizona, health care directives include two documents: your living will and your health care power of attorney. The living will spells out your medical treatment preferences while your health care power of attorney names a trusted proxy to carry out your wishes.
In California, health care directives are compiled into one document: the advance health care directive. The advance health care directive identifies your medical proxy, called an “agent” in California, as well as instructions regarding medical treatment you wish to receive (or not) under stated circumstances.
How to safeguard your medical wishes in the event you are incapacitated
While advance directives are often associated with the elderly, even young adults benefit from communicating their health care desires. Anyone can be incapacitated unexpectedly, and leaving your treatment decisions to others can create hardship and suffering on the part of the family as well as leaving you at the mercy of others’ wishes, which may not match your own.
Whether you live in Arizona, California, or New York, whether you’re 22 or 82, it’s a good idea to lay out a plan for the worst-case scenario. Formally filing legal documents that identify a trusted health care proxy and specifies your health care expectations protects you when you’re unable to do so yourself. Because requirements vary by state, automated online form generators may not be sufficient. It’s critical to ensure that the forms you file are in alignment with the requirements of the state you live in.
To be sure your health care preferences are honored, hire an attorney to prepare your health care directives for you. If you prefer to draw up your own, ask an attorney to review it for you. Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman to discuss your health care directives.