Understanding Living Wills and Why You Need Them

When creating your estate plan, there are many important factors to consider. For some people, the focus may be on the assets of the estate and taking care of loved ones. However, it is crucial to the overall success of your plan to also take into account provisions for your own medical care in the event you become incapacitated. There are many different names that you may hear for the document that accomplishes this task. These may include a living will, health care proxy, durable power of attorney for health care, or an advance health care directive.

An Overview of the Living Will and Health Care Documents

What is a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, and an advance health care directive? The following is a brief overview:

  • A living will is a document that sets out the types of medical treatment you would or would not like to receive under certain situations.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care is a document in which you name a trusted person to direct your health care decisions if you are unable to do so yourself. This document is also sometimes known as a health care proxy.
  • An advance health care directive is a document that cites a person to make health care decisions on your behalf and outlines your wishes with regard to care. In California, the living will and durable power of attorney are combined into this one document.

No matter which name you use to describe it, a health care document is crucial to your overall estate plan. There may come a time in life where you are unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, an accident, or advanced age. Without an advance health care directive in place, the authority to make decisions relating to your care may be placed in the hands of someone who does not truly understand your wishes. This could include an estranged family member, a doctor, or even a judge. Taking the time to create this important document now can help to ensure that your true wishes are carried out in the event that medical decisions need to be made on your behalf.