Living Will Versus a Will: The Difference
Updated: Aug 15, 2018
A will is a written document that outlines how a person's assets are to be distributed upon their death, once all of their debts have been paid. In contrast, a living will is a written document that outlines what medical measures an individual wants to be taken or not taken if they have been deemed to be terminally ill. An individual is deemed to be terminally ill when they are at the final stage of an incurable and irreversible medical condition that an attending physician anticipates, within reasonable medical judgment, will produce a patient's death within six months. To execute and sign both a will and a living will, an individual must be both competent and 18 years old or older (the legal age in Connecticut), and follow the proper procedures before witnesses. It is important to note that technically you need less competency ("testamentary capacity") to execute a will than a living will.
The medical measures included in a living will that could be used to keep that person alive include: 1) using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); 2) artificial hydration and nutrition (e.g., feeding tube); and/or 3) artificial respiration (i.e., the restoration or substitution of someone's breathing by manual, mechanical, or mouth-to-mouth methods). An individual who completes a living will may chose any one of these options or none at all. It is also important to note that a living will may be modified by an individual at any time, as long as that individual is alive and has the mental capacity to make changes to the document.
If a living will is not in place, the following issues could exist: 1) an individual's family members or friends may not know what that individual's wishes are regarding the circumstances under which that individual wants to continue to live (e.g., does that person want to continue to live if they will be on a respirator for the rest of their life?); and 2) medical professionals will continue to implement measures to keep that individual alive if the individual has not executed a living will or has not designated a health Care Representative (discussed below).
When an individual signs a living will and chooses not to have some or any of these interventions that could extend their life, it does not mean that they will be left to die a painful death. A living wills state that "I do want sufficient pain medication to maintain my physical comfort. I do not intend any direct taking of my life, but only that my dying not be unreasonably prolonged."
Once a living will has been executed, it is important to provide a copy of this document to all of your health care providers and to have a copy available for any hospital that treats you. And should you change or modify your living will, please be sure to notify your health care providers and provide them all with a copy of your new living will. It is also very common for an individual to also appoint a Health Care Representative in addition to executing a Living Will.
This Representative should be someone who is very familiar with the quality of the life you wish to live and who can speak on your behalf about your health care wishes should you not be able to speak about them on your own behalf. This Health Care Representative should also have a copy of your current Living Will.
If you would like, there are ways to appoint more than one individual to act as your Health Care Representative to act either jointly or individually in a priority order. There are also provisions that could be put in place to ask that any attending hospital physician consult with your primary care physician when determining whether your condition should be considered "terminal" under a living will.
So as you can see, documents can be drafted to meet your own indivudal needs. Because each situation is different, each individual has the right to make their own individual decisions. It is also important to understand what the document you are signing says, I would be happy to meet with you (and your family if preferred) to discuss your options and help you figure out what will be the right choice for you. You can reach my office at 860.295.1600 or contact me through the contact form on this website. I look forward to working with you.
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