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Living Wills and Advance Directives—What’s the Difference?

February 12, 2020 Estate Planning

Do You Need Both?

Living Wills and Advance Directives—What's the Difference?If you’ve been thinking about your estate planning—maybe doing a little online research or talking around the water cooler—you’ve learned a bit about wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. You’ve likely seen references to “advance medical directives” and “living wills.” On the surface, it can seem like they are essentially the same thing—a way to specify the type of medical care you want in the event you’re unable to make the decision yourself. Are they the same? If not, what’s the difference? And do you need both?

Advance Medical Directives

As the name suggests, an advance medical directive allows you to identify in advance your wishes with respect to medical treatment. An advance medical directive is typically conditional, meaning it goes into effect only when certain conditions stated in the document are met. Often, the conditions include the determination by a competent medical professional that you lack capacity to make your own decisions.

An advance medical directive may address any issue related to your health, such as whether or not you want to be resuscitated and whether you want a feeding tube or other end-of-life treatments. In practice, though, advance directives more often simply designate a person to act as your proxy and make medical decisions on your behalf.

Living Wills

A living will is a type of advance directive, typically one that goes into effect only if you become terminally ill. The provisions set forth in a living will customarily apply only to end-of-life decisions, such as artificial life support, organ donation, and “do not resuscitate” orders.

In most situations, a person doesn’t need both an advance medical directive and a living will, provided the advance directive is comprehensive enough to address end-of-life issues.

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