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Living wills vs. other estate planning documents

When most in San Fernando Valley hear the word “will,” they likely think of a last will and testament that states how or to whom one wants his or her assets distributed following his or her death. Yet few likely know that there are many different types of wills, some of which have little to do with death. One of these is a living will. As the name implies, this estate planning document addresses issues while one is still alive. However, unlike a living trust, a living will does not deal with the management of one’s assets, but rather his or her health.

The California Natural Death Act defines a living will as a declaration of if and how one wishes to received life-sustaining care in the event the he or she falls into a permanent unconscious condition. The fact that the creator of a living will has already laid out his or wishes regarding end-of-life care differentiates it from durable power of attorney. With power of attorney, medical decision-making privileges are usually handed off to another.

Some of the issues addressed in a living will may include:

  •          Whether or not one wishes to receive artificial nourishment or hydration to prolong life.
  •          If one wants to receive palliative care rather than life-sustaining intervention.
  •          Whether one wants medical personnel to attempt to resuscitate him or her (a “Do Not Resuscitate Order”) or provide greater efforts to keep him or her alive (a “Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment Order”).

According to the American Psychological Association, only 25 percent of Americans have chosen to include a living will in their estate planning. While other options are available to deal with one’s medical care, only a living will gives him or her total control of such decisions should he or she become incapacitated. 

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