When most people think of estate planning they typically think wills, trusts and death. However, the actuality is that one of the major focuses of good estate planning is for incapacity during a client’s lifetime. In the previous Part I of this series, I outlined the purpose and benefits of a Financial Power of Attorney. In Part II of this series, I discussed a Medical Power of Attorney. Another document we draft for clients is a Directive to Physicians (Directive), also commonly called a Living Will.
A Directive is a legal document that communicates your instructions about life sustaining types of medical treatment. It speaks for you in situations where you have a terminal condition or an irreversible condition and when you cannot speak for yourself. Examples of life sustaining treatments are artificial hydration, artificial nutrition, breathing machines and ventilators. Treatments or medications for pain are not included as life sustaining treatments and would be administered regardless of a Directive instruction.
A Directive is different than a Medical Power of Attorney in that there is no agent appointed to make a decision. Rather, in a Directive the client is making a decision for themselves about a future situation. A Directive is also different than a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) in that a DNR instructs medical professionals to not perform CPR or any other form of rescuscitation. A DNR is typically only drafted for very elderly and/or very ill persons.
By having a correctly drafted Directive a person has chosen to make their own decisions in advance of a serious injury or illness. A Directive can spare loved ones the stress of making difficult life support decisions for you. In addition, it ensures that your wishes regarding life support are respected and executed.