Living wills and advance health care directives are legal documents that
provide instructions for your medical care in the event you are unable
to make those decisions for yourself (typically in the context of terminal
illness, serious injury, coma, late stages of dementia, or other end-of-life
An advance health care directive has a living will and also includes a
durable power of attorney for health care. The durable power of attorney
for health care names a health care agent who has the power to make medical
decisions for you in the event of your incapacitation.
Both of these documents have several interchangeable names depending on
the county, state or institution involved. A living will is also referred
to as a directive to physicians, health care declaration, medical directive
or health care directive. A durable power of attorney for health care
may be referred to as a medical power of attorney, power of attorney for
health care, designation of surrogate, or patient advocate designation.
Finally, a health care agent may also be known as an attorney-in-fact
for health care, patient advocate, health care proxy, surrogate, or health
What Details Can I Include in a Living Will or Advance Health Care Directive?
If you have a living will or advance health care directive, your physician
must either abide by your instructions or step aside and let another physician
treat you. Although it sounds similar, a living will has nothing to do
with a conventional “will” that is used to leave property
to beneficiaries upon your death.
Living wills and advance health care directives cover end-of-life medical
decisions such as:
Resuscitation: Restarting the heart by CPR or by a device that delivers an electric
shock to stimulate the heart.
Mechanical ventilation: Using a machine to take over breathing functions and when and for how
long to be placed on a ventilator.
Tube feeding: Using tubes to supply the body with nutrients and fluids (either intravenously
or through a tube in the stomach) and when and for how long to continue
being fed in this manner.
Dialysis: Artificially removing waste from your blood and managing fluid levels
if your kidneys no longer function and when and for how long to continue
Antibiotics or antiviral medications: Using drugs to treat bacterial and viral infections and whether to have
aggressive or non-aggressive treatments.
Comfort care (palliative care): Ending life-prolonging treatment in favor of treatments that simply manage
or minimize pain. Includes decisions such as being allowed to die at home,
avoiding invasive tests and surgeries, pain medication, etc.
Organ and tissue donations: Whether to donate your organs for transplantation (which would require
you to be kept on life-sustaining treatment temporarily until a transplant
Donating your body for scientific study: Registration for a planned donation can be done ahead of time with a
medical school, university or other donation program.
As important as these documents are, there is no denying the fact that
living wills and advance health care directives can be confusing. To ensure
a successful outcome, contact Alameda County probate and estate planning
attorney Hannah Sargent!