A living will — also referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or physician’s directive — is a document that states a person’s wishes regarding medical care should he or she ever fall into an incapacitated state. Typically, someone will make a living will stating general considerations, then gives specific directives in the case of more particular circumstances such as pregnancy and new medical developments. Generally, a living will may be executed as long as there are two witnesses and the person to whom it pertains, called the “declarant,” is of sound mind at the time of execution.
A declarant should make a living will with the purpose of articulating his or her wishes to those giving medical care in a situation of incapacitation. Generally a living will only applies in situations where the declarant is facing a likelihood of death or an inability to fully recover to the point where there will be a reasonable quality of life. For instance, if someone is in a situation where he or she can be revived, but will likely live the rest of his or her life in a vegetative state or otherwise have extreme mental deterioration due to the injury, then a living will would apply.
In order to make a living will, the declarant usually starts with a declaration that the document represents his or her intent in the event that communication of his or her own wishes with regard to life sustaining medical procedures is impossible. Next is usually a general statement as to the situations in which the document will control. This generally involves an description of circumstances in which the declarant is incapacitated, faces a terminal illness, and faces a serious risk of a diminished quality of life in the best case scenario. Often, laws require that two or more doctors have examined the declarant and agree on the diagnosis prior to fulfilling his or her wishes according to the document.
In order to make a living will complete, the declarant should go into more specific scenarios to guide the medical care providers. For instance, the document may state any desired changes in treatment if the declarant is pregnant. Further, it may also refer to specific treatments and explain when they should be cut off, such as intravenous feeding or breathing tubes. The living will may also account for any new medical developments that come to light between its execution and the injury.
The process to make a living will valid varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the general requirements are similar to executing a standard will. The declarant must be of sound mind and there must be two witnesses attesting to that fact. Generally, if the living will was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was executed, other jurisdictions will recognize its validity even if the procedures taken would not amount to a valid execution in that location.