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What is a living will?

As a California resident, if you have not have heard much about estate planning in general or living wills in particular, you may wish to find out more about the benefits a living will can give you. You probably know that your will allows you to state how and to whom you want your assets distributed when you die. But what about a living will? What does it do for you?

As FindLaw explains, a living will is very different from a regular will. In your living will, you instruct your doctor and other health care professionals and facilities about the treatments and procedures you want and do not want if you become terminally ill or suffer from an injury or illness that leaves you in a permanent vegetative state.

Your living will can be as specific as you want and can set forth your precise wishes regarding a whole host of available medical procedures. At minimum, you should cover the following:

  • Which, if any, medical treatments, techniques and procedures you want, even if they could hasten your death
  • Which, if any, medical treatments, techniques and procedures you do not want, even if they could prolong your life
  • Which, if any, of your organs you want donated after you die

Living will vs. durable medical power of attorney

Another document similar to a living will that you may wish to consider is a durable medical power of attorney. Like your living will, your durable medical power of attorney instructs your doctors and hospital about what kinds of procedures and treatments you want and do not want. It likewise sets forth your choice of the person, usually called your attorney-in-fact, who will make your medical decisions and carry out your wishes if and when you cannot do so yourself.

The difference between the two documents is when they take effect. Your living will takes effect only if and when you become terminally ill or slip into a permanent vegetative state. Your durable medical power of attorney, on the other hand, takes effect the moment you sign it. This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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