Being clear on when each of your estate planning documents, including your living will, applies is important. A living will is an advanced medical directive, though which you provide informed medical consent for medical treatment (or the withdrawal of treatment) for a situation that potentially may arise in the future.
Specifically, your living will applies or is effective if you are in an end-stage medical condition, meaning that doctors agree there is no coming back. Usually this means an terminal condition or an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state.
Unless you are in an end-stage medical condition, your living will does not apply. For example, if you have a heart attack, but are otherwise healthy, the living will doesn’t apply. If you slip and fall on the ice and break a leg, the living will does not apply.
An example of when the living will applies:
Janice had long suffered Parkinson’s Disease. She fell, calling out to her husband, Tom, but never regained consciousness. Three doctors examined Janice and agreed that she was brain dead and asked Tom if Janice had a living will. She did; Tom brought in the living will; and, after their daughters arrived to say good-bye, life support was removed. Janice peacefully died 15 minutes later.
An example of when the living will does NOT apply:
Frank was at home with his family when he began not to feel well; his left arm hurt and it felt as though there was an elephant sitting on his chest. Frank’s son called 911 and the ambulance took Frank to the emergency room. Doctors diagnosed Frank with heart disease and treated him.
Most people don’t want to be kept alive with medical heroics such as life support if there is no coming back. For those people, a living will is appropriate and effective only when they are in an end-stage medical condition.
Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.