If you are a California resident who believes that estate planning should be a major part of your life, you may have heard about living wills and wondered what they are and how they differ from regular wills. Actually, as FindLaw explains, a living will is not a will at all. Whereas a regular will allows you to state who you want to receive your assets and various pieces of your property upon your death, a living will allows you to state your medical treatment preferences if you are terminally ill or suffer an injury or illness that leaves you in a permanent vegetative state.
Your living will contains instructions to your doctors and other health care providers regarding the following:
- Medical treatments, techniques and procedures you want, even if they may hasten your death
- Medical treatments, techniques and procedures you do not want, even if they may prolong your life
- Your preferences regarding organ donation after you die
Living wills vs. durable medical powers of attorney
In some respects, a living will is quite similar to a durable medical power of attorney. Both documents instruct health care professionals about the types of medical care you want and do not want. Both allow you to appoint an attorney-in-fact; i.e., your representative, to carry out your wishes when you cannot express those wishes yourself.
Your living will, however, takes effect only at the point where you are determined to be in a permanent vegetative state and/or terminally ill. Your durable power of attorney takes effect as soon as you sign it. Your representative can make health care decisions for you whenever you cannot make them for yourself. You need not be terminally ill or in a permanent vegetative state.
You may wish to consider having both a living will and a durable medical power of attorney so as to cover all situations that may arise in your life. This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.