Making decisions about your future medical care is integral to planning for your future. That’s why many people choose to create an advance directive, also sometimes called a living will. But what is the difference between a living will and other types of advance directives? Let’s look at the most common type of advance directive: the living will. We’ll also discuss different types of advance directives so that you can prepare for every eventuality.

What is a Living Will vs Advance Directive?

A living will is a type of advance directive, while “advance directive” is a broad term to describe any legal document that addresses your future medical care. Living wills are advance directives, but not all advance directives are living wills. 

So what does a living will look like? A living will contains your instructions for future medical care if you cannot communicate your wishes yourself. Your inability to communicate could be due to an accident or illness that leaves you incapacitated.

Your living will can cover a wide range of decisions, from whether or not you want to receive life-sustaining treatment (like CPR or a ventilator) to what kind of pain management you prefer. Some of the items you may cover in your living will include:

  • Dialysis: Kidney treatments to help process toxins
  • Respiratory therapies such as ventilators, respirators, and aspirators
  • Intubation: placing the air tube for Respiratory therapies
  • Blood transfusions: If you don’t want blood products, you can make that clear
  • DNR orders for medical personnel to not resuscitate you if you die
  • Nutritional Therapies: IV or stomach tube feeding
  • Hydration Therapies: IV liquids and minerals
  • Other Medical or Pharmaceutical Treatments: could include almost anything, from electric shock therapy to pacemaker surgery to painkillers.

You can also use a living will to appoint a healthcare proxy or someone who will make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Choosing this individual is crucial, as they carefully consider your wishes and make decisions for you if you cannot communicate them yourself.

It’s important to note that a living will only takes effect if you cannot communicate your wishes for future medical care. If you remain capable of making your own decisions, your living will does not take effect.

Types of Advance Directives

While a living will is the most common type of advance directive, it’s not the only type. Here are some other types of advance directives:

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: According to the Mayo Clinic, “A medical or health care power of attorney is a type of advance directive in which you name a person to make decisions for you when you are unable to do so. In some states, this directive may also be called a durable power of attorney for health care or a health care proxy.” (1)
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A DNR order instructs medical staff not to provide CPR or other life-sustaining treatments if your heart stops or you stop breathing.
  • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): A POLST is a medical order that outlines your preferences for future medical care, including life-sustaining treatments.

Creating an Advance Directive

If you’re interested in creating an advance directive, there are a few steps you’ll need to take. First, you’ll need to choose the type of directive that’s right for you. As we’ve seen, there are a few different types of directives, so it’s essential to choose the one that best fits your needs.

Working with your estate planning attorney can help you decide which types of advance directives are best in your unique situation.  They can also help you create the directive itself, as well as appoint a healthcare proxy.

Once you have your directive in place, it’s essential to keep it up to date. Be sure to review it every few years or whenever there are changes in your health or personal situation.

What Happens Without a Living Will or Advance Directives?

If you don’t create an advance directive, your family will have to decide on your medical care if you become incapacitated or incompetent to care for yourself. Their involvement can be a difficult burden for them, especially if they are unsure of what you would want.

In some cases, families end up in court fighting over these decisions. To avoid this, it’s best to have a living will or other advance directives in place. This way, your family will know exactly what you want, and they won’t have to make these difficult decisions during an already emotional time.

Deciding to create an advance directive is a personal one. However, it’s an essential step in ensuring that your medical team knows your wishes, even if you cannot communicate them yourself. Be sure to talk with your estate planning attorney about whether or not an advance directive is right for you.

We Can Help

At Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna, we create the legal frameworks to prepare you and your family for whatever may come.  Our team of estate planning attorneys can help you make an advance directive that meets your unique needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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